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Wisconsin posts biggest US job loss, as Gov. Scott Walker fights for his job

Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It also lost more private-sector jobs than any other state.

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In this April 17 photo Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce in Springfield, Ill.

Seth Perlman/AP

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While Wisconsin Gov, Scott Walker (R) fights to keep his job in a recall election scheduled for June, he is being forced to confront a harsh reality in his state: It lost more jobs during the past 12 months than any other state in the United States.

Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, according to data released Tuesday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state’s lead in job losses is significantly greater than the rest of the 50 states: No other state lost more than 3,500 jobs.

The majority of the losses in Wisconsin, 17,800, were in the public sector. However, the state lost more private-sector jobs, 6,100, than any other state. The only other states to report private-sector job losses in the same time period (instead of private-sector gains) were Mississippi and Rhode Island.

Governor Walker has been campaigning on a message that jobs are up in Wisconsin, responding to positive data for January and February that 17,000 jobs were added in his state. The loss of 4,300 jobs in March reversed that trend.

“We understand, it’s not the government that creates jobs; it’s the people who create jobs. The best thing we can do is get government out of the way,” Walker told the Illinois Chamber of Commerce in Springfield last week.

The job gains early this year suggest they will be sustained over the remaining months of this year, says his administration, which attributes the gains to Walker’s agenda that included cuts to public-sector union benefits and bargaining power last year.

“There are a lot of other indicators that we see that show the governor’s policies are working,” Reggie Newson, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, told the Associated Press. Compared with a year ago, unemployment rates are lower throughout the state except in three counties, Mr. Newson also noted in a statement.

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As expected, the two Democratic opponents who are campaigning to defeat Walker have interpreted the new data to show the governor’s policies are harmful to overall job growth.

“Every report card that comes in for Gov. Walker shows he’s failing Wisconsin,” candidate Kathleen Falk, a former Dane County executive, said in a statement released Tuesday.

Ms. Falk is in a race with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and four others in a May 8 Democratic primary. The winner of that election will face Walker in the June 5 election. Also facing a recall that day is Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) and four Republican state senators.

Blaming Walker’s policies for the job losses is not necessarily accurate, says Laura Dresser, a labor economist at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a nonpartisan think tank in Madison.

“It’s part of the answer but not the only answer,” Ms. Dresser says. “Governors don’t really control the whole economy,” although wage reductions connected to Walker’s cuts, along with his refusal to accept $23 million in federal stimulus infrastructure funds early last year, help put the losses “at the doorstep of those policies.”

Dresser also says Walker is becoming a target of criticism by Democrats because he originally campaigned on adding 250,000 private-sector jobs to the state in his first term. To date, only 5,900 jobs have been added since he took office.

“He really put this number on the table. If anyone said, ‘Judge me by the jobs,’ it was Scott Walker,” she says.

Two bright spots for Wisconsin were the manufacturing and education and health-services sectors, which each increased 1.7 percent over the past 12 months. 

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