By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin ranked 33rd in private-sector job creation for the 12-month period ending in March, based on federal data released Thursday, the last update of its kind before the November election.
Gov. Scott Walker’s record on job creation has been a major issue as he seeks re-election against Democratic challenger Mary Burke. Walker has pointed to the roughly 100,000 jobs added under his watch and the current 5.6 percent unemployment rate as signs that he’s turned the state around.
But Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary, says the job-growth ranking and Walker’s failure to meet his 2010 campaign promise to add 250,000 private-sector jobs are evidence that his policies have not worked.
The new federal and state jobs figures gave fuel to both arguments.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, which Walker has called the “gold standard” for measuring jobs, is based on a survey of nearly every business in the state. The agency found that for the 12-month period, the number of private-sector jobs grew by 28,712 or nearly 1.3 percent, lagging behind the national average of a little more than 2 percent.
That number put Wisconsin 33rd and behind only Illinois and Minnesota in the Midwest.
“Based on the ‘gold standard’ numbers released today, Wisconsin continues to lag behind on job creation under Gov. Walker,” Burke’s campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki said.
But in a bit of good news, the state rose in the rankings, as in the previous 12-month cycle, covering the 2013 calendar year, Wisconsin was 37th.
Another positive for Walker came in the unemployment rate: The state Department of Workforce Development reported it dropped from 5.8 percent in July to 5.6 percent in August. That’s the lowest since 2008 and remains below the national average of 6.1 percent.
“With more than 100,000 jobs created and the lowest unemployment rate in six years, Wisconsin can’t afford to go backward with Madison liberal Mary Burke,” Walker’s campaign spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said.
However, the monthly report was a mixed bag, showing Wisconsin lost 4,300 private-sector jobs between July and August. Those figures, because they are based on a small sample of only about 3.5 percent of employers, are subject to significant revision.
Because the monthly jobs numbers can vary so widely, Walker said the federal statistics should be used to gauge how well he is doing in meeting his signature job-creation promise from 2010, which he repeated in the 2012 recall. With four months left and the state 150,000 jobs short, Walker isn’t expected to come close to fulfilling the promise.
A Marquette University Law School poll released Wednesday showed 61 percent of likely voters thought reaching the 250,000 jobs-added mark was very or somewhat important, while nearly 39 percent said it was not important.
The poll, conducted Sept. 11 through Sunday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. It also showed the race between Walker and Burke to be about even, just as polls have shown it to be since May.
Also Thursday, Walker released two new television ads. One takes Burke to task for supporting President Barack Obama’s federal health care law, and the other touts the $2 billion in tax cuts Walker has signed into law.Follow @sbauerAP