MADISON — Wisconsin lost nearly 6,000 jobs in April, according to preliminary data state labor officials released Thursday, marking another setback for Republican Gov. Scott Walker as he faces a June 5 recall election.
Democrats initially forced Walker into the recall as payback for passing a contentious law stripping most public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights. But Walker's challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has shifted away from union issues to focus on what he calls Walker's inability to jumpstart the state's economy and failure to deliver on a campaign promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs.
Barrett has played up a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report that showed Wisconsin lost the most jobs between March 2011 and March 2012 of any state. Walker has insisted things aren't as bad as those numbers show. On Wednesday the governor released revised fourth-quarter figures that showed the state gained 23,300 public and private sector jobs last year. The bureau has yet to vet those numbers.
The new monthly data, though preliminary, shows the state is still sliding backward. According to a survey of 3.5 percent of Wisconsin employers, the state lost 6,200 private sector jobs in April. The state added 300 government jobs, bringing the net loss to 5,900 jobs. Since December 2010, the month before Walker took office, the state has added a total of 400 jobs.
A separate tally of unemployment claims and a survey of 1,400 households, however, showed Wisconsin's unemployment rate dipped slightly, from 6.8 percent in March to 6.7 percent in April. That's better than the national unemployment rate, which rang in at 8.1 percent for the month.
Department of Workforce Development officials cautioned the data is subject to revisions.
"Even under the governor's rosiest possible scenario, he has missed opportunity after opportunity to put people back to work," Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in a statement. "And he has broken his promise to the people of Wisconsin to focus like a laser beam on creating 250,000 new jobs."
Walker's state spokesman, Cullen Werwie, and his campaign spokeswoman, Ciara Matthews, didn't immediately return messages.