MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin declined in private-sector job growth rankings for the latest reporting period, dropping from 32nd to 37th in the nation, a point that Democrats continue to exploit against Gov. Scott Walker as he seeks re-election next year.
The figures released Wednesday are a key benchmark, picked by Walker, to measure how well he is meeting his 2010 campaign promise to add 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of next year. He's nowhere close to meeting the pledge. Through his first two years in office, only 63,000 jobs were created, putting Wisconsin on pace to only get about halfway to the goal.
Walker on Tuesday, in an interview with The Associated Press, said it was fair to judge him on his jobs promise, but he believed voters would also assess him based on progress that's been made and whether his opponent offers a better alternative.
"For the people on the left, this has never really been about whether you make it or not," the Republican Walker said of his political opponents and the jobs promise. "It's a gotcha. They want it to be all about that magic number. ... People are smart enough to say it's not just a matter of whether you get there within one job or not, it's what's the alternative?"
Democrats have pointed to Wisconsin's lagging job-creation numbers as a sign that Walker's policies aren't working. Walker has blamed a number of factors, including uncertainty caused by his recall election in 2012 and the status of the federal health care overhaul law, as making employers nervous about hiring.
On Tuesday, Walker said job growth under his watch was negatively affected by decisions made by his Democratic predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle.
"In many ways part of our challenge of getting our jobs number is it's taken us some time to recover from two terms of Jim Doyle," Walker said. "I don't know that most people recognizing that would say the answer, the alternative to where we are now, is to go back and essentially invoke a third term of Jim Doyle."
Democrat Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle Corp. executive who also worked as Doyle's Commerce secretary, is the only announced candidate to challenge Walker for governor. Burke's spokesman, Joe Zepecki, said Walker was just making excuses.
"Scott Walker has failed to deliver the jobs he promised Wisconsin families by putting politics ahead of problem solving," Zepecki said.
Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said the latest jobs numbers were bad news for Wisconsin.
"For 2014 we need a dramatic change in focus and policy that grows and strengthens our middle-class families," Barca said in a statement.
Wisconsin's performance in the latest data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics was consistent with the previous quarter for the 12-month period ending in March, but its ranking slipped. Nearly 24,000 private-sector jobs were added in Wisconsin between June 2012 and June 2013, for a growth rate of 1 percent. That is about half of the national growth rate of 1.9 percent.
Illinois was the only neighboring state to Wisconsin with worse numbers. Jobs there grew by 0.97 percent, 39th in the country.
Reggie Newson, secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development, said the report showed Wisconsin was continuing to make progress in job creation.
"It's important to look at all economic indicators in context, especially given the lag in these numbers," Newson said in a statement. "The latest numbers still don't include all of summer 2013, and Wisconsin had its best spring-summer in 16 years."
While 250,000 new jobs aren't likely to be created by 2015, another Walker promise has been exceeded. Walker promised that over four years at least 10,000 new private sector businesses would open. Since the end of November, 13,877 news businesses have been created, the state Department of Financial Institutions reported.
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