CHAMPAIGN – In his State of the State address and recent interviews, Gov. Pat Quinn has told the state that its economy is, under his watch, bouncing back strongly from recession.
But if the Democratic incumbent sees it as a state on the rise, the Republicans seeking to oust him view it far differently – as almost an economic basket case. At least one candidate, businessman Bruce Rauner, trots out his own set of economic numbers to make his case, most depicting Quinn’s Illinois as particularly weak.
A closer look shows that some of the economic claims made by each hold up. Others don’t.
In Quinn’s State of the State address Wednesday, he pointed out that as he took office in January 2009 the state and national economies were in bad shape. With the recession in full swing at that point, there’s no disputing that.
“But over the past five years, we’ve rebuilt one hard step at a time. And we’ve been getting the job done,” he said.
Quinn said Illinois has added 280,000 private-sector jobs since recovery began – officially that was in January 2010 for Illinois – and that statewide unemployment is at its lowest level in almost five years.
“In fact, since last May, Illinois has led the Midwest in new jobs created,” the governor said.
The first two points are accurate, but if you compare it with other states, Illinois doesn’t always stack up well.
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, a net 276,800 private-sector jobs have been added in Illinois since January 2010. That’s a 5.6 percent increase.
In that time, many Midwestern states have done better. Wisconsin’s private-sector job base has grown by 5.7 percent, Indiana’s by 8.8 percent, Michigan’s by 9.2 percent and North Dakota’s – driven by the state’s petroleum boom – leads the way at 30.2 percent.
Unemployment, which reached a recession-high of 11.3 percent in January 2010, was at 8.6 percent in December, the most recent month available from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. That’s its lowest point since the 8.5 percent rate in February 2009.
But the current unemployment rate is the third highest among the 50 states, lower only than in Nevada and Rhode Island.
“If you start out in a hole, you can climb out to a lot of places,” said economist Richard Dye of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. “I think he’s spinning the glass as half full, and it’s understandable. But I certainly don’t share his rosy outlook.”
In terms of the raw number of nonfarm jobs added since May 2010, Quinn is right. No Midwestern state has added more, according to the BLS. But Illinois has the largest population in the region and probably should generate more jobs.
The most accurate way to measure job creation is the percentage increase in the job base, according to Dye.
By that measure, Illinois’ nonfarm job base has grown 0.95 percent. That’s better than Minnesota (0.92 percent), Michigan (0.5 percent) and Iowa (0.3 percent). But it’s far short of Wisconsin’s growth (1.7 percent), or Indiana’s (1.3 percent), states where Republican governors have made a habit criticizing Illinois’ economy in recent years.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor never intended to portray Illinois’ recovery as complete.
“The governor used the facts to illustrate the reality, which is that Illinois is recovering. But we have a long way to go,” she said, arguing that the governor’s GOP challengers deliberately ignore the positive signs in the state’s economy.
Quinn also points to a real-world example of job creation during his term. He said Chrysler has added significantly to its workforce at its Belvidere plant, bringing employment there to more than 4,700.
The automaker has added thousands of workers at the northern Illinois plant, but perhaps not quite to the degree cited by Quinn. A Chrysler website page on the Belvidere plant, updated in January, puts the workforce at 4,490.
Anderson said the governor used figures Chrysler provided to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Chrysler didn’t respond to queries from The Associated Press.
The Republican candidates campaigning for Quinn’s job regularly use the state’s economic weaknesses against him. State Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard have blamed high unemployment on Quinn, and on Wednesday they and Treasurer Dan Rutherford said Quinn offered too few details about ideas on how to lower it in his annual address.
For the most part a state economy isn’t made much better or worse by a governor, Dye said. And to the extent the poor fiscal condition of Illinois’ state government does affect the economy, lawmakers such as Brady and Dillard share the blame, he said.
Rauner, the one GOP Quinn challenger who doesn’t already hold office, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to fire off his own numbers at Quinn Wednesday. Here are the figures Rauner highlights, and how they hold up to scrutiny:
• The number of people unemployed, Rauner says, is up by more than 35,000 since Quinn became governor. The BLS says the number is 36,892.
• Rauner says almost 95,000 fewer people are employed now than when Quinn took office. The BLS figure is 93,137.
• Rauner says household income has dropped by $1,132, or 2.1 percent, during Quinn’s stay in office – from $52,870 in 2009 to $51,738 in 2012. But the Census Bureau says the picture is actually worse. A different set of data that the bureau recommends using, because it is drawn from a much larger survey, found household income in Illinois dropped 4.8 percent, from $57,927 to $55,137
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