Wisconsin ranked 37th in private sector job creation last year, lagging behind the national average, based on the latest numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Gov. Scott Walker has said voters should rely on the numbers, gathered from a survey of nearly every Wisconsin business, to measure how well he is doing on his signature 2010 campaign promise to add 250,000 private sector jobs in the state by the end of this year.
In 2013, the state added 28,141 private sector jobs for a growth rate of 1.2 percent. The national average was 2.1 percent.
Through the first three years of Walker's term, the state added slightly fewer than 92,000 private sector jobs. Taken together with monthly job numbers, which are less reliable than the quarterly figures released by BLS, there have been 101,213 private sector jobs created in Walker's term through April. Walker's administration was expected to release new numbers for May later Thursday.
"You add those quarterly numbers through the first three years, plus the first five months in 2014, we're well over 100,000 jobs. That's good news going forward," said Walker.
The governor points to those job creation numbers, which come after the state lost 133,000 jobs in the second term of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, as a sign that his policies are a success. The state's unemployment rate, 5.8 percent as of April, is also the lowest it's been since 2008, before the Great Recession.
"My goal isn't based on rankings," Walker said Thursday when asked about the numbers following an awards ceremony at the state Department of Military Affairs. "My goal is based on jobs, helping to put people to work... it's pretty clear we're much better off today than we four years ago. I think we'll be much better going forward four years from now if voters give me four more years to be governor of this state."
Still, Walker's Democratic opponent Mary Burke, a former state Commerce secretary and Trek Bicycle Corp. executive, has hammered Wisconsin's economic performance under Walker, citing its job growth compared with other states.
Burke called the latest figures "simply unacceptable."
"We have everything we need here in Wisconsin to be a thriving top 10 economy, but Walker's approach of putting the special interests and big business first, and not looking out for the middle class has us falling behind," said Burke's communications director Joe Zepecki.
How critical are the latest job numbers when it comes to the upcoming gubernatorial election? Political experts say there is some importance.
"Especially since a large majority of the governor's policy agenda has been related to job creation and economic development issues. So for the challenger, I think that definitely playing this up as much as possible would be beneficial to her," said UW-Green Bay political science professor David Halpap.
Halpap adds there is potential the job numbers could determine the election.
"Especially if the state remains stagnate or continues to fall behind some of its Midwestern counterparts. But the way our state is right now, it's fairly polarized, so there may not be a lot of people who are going to be swayed," said Halpap.
Wisconsin was 35th in the previous BLS report covering the 12-months ending in September. The next report, covering job growth through March, is set to be released on Sept. 18.
The ranking of 37th for private sector job growth in 2013 comes after Wisconsin was 36th in 2012 and 35th in 2011.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.