While the national economy has righted itself after the Great Recession of 2008 and wages are finally showing some improvement, along with a falling unemployment rate, the state of Wisconsin isn't keeping up.
Gov. Scott Walker and his leaders in the Legislature will tell you everything is just fine — the state is booming thanks to their leadership and they're ready to do more. To this, I say, spare us.
Of course Wisconsin's economy is doing better than it was in 2010. If it wasn't, then some government leaders ought to be thrown in jail for malfeasance. If you can't show improvements in your state's economy when the nation's is reaching new heights, than something is seriously wrong.
Yet still, the Badger State ranks in the bottom half in job growth, and a United Way of Wisconsin report issued in September found that two-thirds of Wisconsin's jobs pay under $20 an hour, below the poverty rate for families of four.
This isn't anything to write home about, despite the spin put on the state's economy by Walker and his legislative cheerleaders.
And here's why I think Wisconsin continues to lag. The governor and too many of state representatives and senators in the Legislature would rather concentrate on piddly issues that make news media headlines than actually hunker down and get serious about the state's economy.
That's why in this state we seldom hear a serious discussion of helping the working poor by increasing the minimum wage, a move that could bolster wages up through the working ranks. Instead of targeting relief to low-income families, which in turn would help their spending power, money is funneled into already-lavish tax breaks for the wealthy and big businesses, many of which accept the largess but don't return jobs.
When it comes to programs that could create jobs with federal money, no less, the Walker administration has seen fit to spurn the money and the well-paying jobs that come with it. The rancor over the state Department of Transportation's funding problems is a perfect example. Rather than consider new funding resources for the budget that could be used to restore the state's deteriorating roads and bridges and create thousands of jobs, the short-sighted governor and a few Senate allies dig in their heels.
But alas, these politicians find plenty of time to take on or, better yet, create issues that have nothing to do with making the economy better.
One of the first things at least two Republicans think ought to be done is get the University of Wisconsin to fire a professor with the audacity to offer an elective course in the problems of "whiteness" in our society. And if UW officials don't, then they better expect some more cuts in their next budget. Can't you imagine corporate execs rushing to invest in a state whose politicians think it's fine to play racial politics? But GOPers like state Sen. Steve Nash and state Rep. Dave Murphy long have been doing their best to denigrate the biggest job creator in the state.
And then we have the burning issue that private and public college students should be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus. Since no one has singled it out as being a major priority among college kids, no one's quite sure where state Rep. Jesse Kremer came up with that one, except, of course to keep his name in the papers. I suppose it would, however, help employment in out-of-state gun factories if somehow students rush to arm themselves for the long trek up Bascom Hill.
And then let's not forget about Scott Walker's job-creating priorities. No sooner had the ink dried on the 2016 election than our governor fired off a "wish list" to Donald Trump, asking that the federal government give Wisconsin the OK to drug test "able-bodied" men who get food stamps (probably some of those $7.25-an-hour guys he refuses to help), allow us to set our own rules on which refugees can settle in Wisconsin, and give us permission to decide when and how to shoot wolves.
Lots of job growth in those priorities. Imagine the drug-testing jobs that will be created. Unfortunately, they, too, will probably pay $7.25 an hour.
Then we wonder why Wisconsin has become a national laggard.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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