Our Views: Jobs are focus this weekend, this fall

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

The focus this Labor Day weekend is on jobs and the world of work, but you haven't seen anything yet. In the run-up to the Nov. 4 elections, every politician hoping to pull in paychecks at the state Capitol or represent Wisconsin in Congress will tout how his or her ideas for job creation and supporting workers are best.

The spotlight on jobs will be most prominent in the gubernatorial race, where Democrat Mary Burke hopes to oust Republican Scott Walker.

That focus is welcome because, years after the Great Recession, the state's jobs picture isn't rosy.

Some recent announcements do offer hope. Wisconsin's July jobless rate was 5.8 percent, compared to 6.8 a year earlier. The Department of Workforce Development also says Wisconsin added more than 28,000 private-sector jobs in the 12 months ending in March.

Federal numbers also lift spirits. Those filing new claims for jobless benefits in the second week of August fell below 300,000 for the third time in five weeks. Claims haven't been that low since early 2000 and 2006, at the heights of previous economic expansions, the Wall Street Journal reported. July housing starts climbed 16 percent to the highest level since November. That could boost the economy.

Two other recent stats stick out, however. The government says the U.S. economy has regained the 8.7 million jobs it lost during the 2008-09 recession. Unfortunately, the average annual wage of jobs lost was $61,637. The average wage of jobs added was $47,171.

No wonder many people, particularly in Rock County, feel the recovery has shortchanged them.

Democrats will argue the solution is to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. They reason that would push pay higher for workers making just above the minimum and also raise average wages. Republicans fear a higher minimum would cost jobs by forcing businesses to shed employees or automate more work.

The debate is flowing through county courthouses. Rock is among counties that have placed referendums supporting a higher minimum wage on the November ballot. Voting “yes” might make residents feel good, but this advisory won't change a thing.

The gubernatorial race offers several key statistics. Walker promised to create 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term. Burke points out that so far he's produced half that. She'll tout her experience as Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's commerce secretary and working for her family's business, Trek Bicycles.

Walker counters that he set big goals because he's confident Wisconsin can do great things and that while his administration hit many targets, it's not done yet. He notes that while Burke was commerce secretary, the state ranked 42nd in private-sector job growth. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis found that during Burke's tenure, Wisconsin's rate of private-sector job growth was less than half the national rate.

The U.S. and global economies, however, steer Wisconsin's economy. A governor wields only so much influence. As the Journal Sentinel points out, Wisconsin has lagged the U.S. rate of growth in good jobs for more than a decade under Republican and Democratic administrations.

Still, the governor ensures enough dollars go to worker training, and with Wisconsin's skills gap, that's a key concern. A governor can help make sure the state's transportation network greases the wheels of commerce. He or she also can foster business growth with the right tax climate.

While you're enjoying that cookout or taking in a festive event with family and friends this weekend, discuss which politicians have the best ideas to lead us forward. If you're undecided, the campaigns are sure to serve plenty more food for thought in the weeks ahead.

Gazette editorials express the views of the newspaper’s editorial board. Readers are encouraged to comment on editorials through letters to the editor.

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