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The Associated Press April 19, 2012, 5:22PM ET

Wisconsin loses 4,300 private sector jobs in March

Wisconsin lost 4,300 private sector jobs in March, the state Department of Workforce Development reported Thursday, bad news for Gov. Scott Walker as he nears a June 5 recall election.

Since Walker took office, the state has added just 5,900 private sector jobs -- far from the 250,000 Walker promised to deliver by the end of his first term. At this pace, the state would have just 18,864 more jobs by 2015 than when Walker took office in January 2011.

"The fundamentals in the state's economy are quite weak, but there are some positives," said Abdur Chowdhury, a Marquette University economics professor.

He said the growth of 2,000 manufacturing jobs was better than neighboring states, a signal that jobs that had left the state for overseas may be slowly returning. However, losses of 4,500 jobs in the construction area could adversely affect the housing sector, Chowdhury said.

"Compared to the national economy, I would say the Wisconsin economy is not doing as well," he said.

Wisconsin's economy has been a focal point of the campaign to recall Walker from office. The primary is May 8 and the general election is June 5.

While the recall drive was motivated largely by Walker's proposal effectively ending collective bargaining for most public workers, his opponents have also said other cuts he made to balance a state budget shortfall have hurt the state's economy.

The latest jobs report will only fuel their arguments.

"With each day that passes, it becomes more clear that Wisconsin simply cannot afford Scott Walker as governor any longer," said Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate.

But Republican Party spokesman Ben Sparks ignored the job losses and focused on a piece of good news in the report showing that the unemployment rate in March dropped from 6.9 percent to 6.8 percent. That's the lowest it's been since 2008 and down from 7.6 percent a year ago. It's also below the national unemployment rate of 8.2 percent.

"Wisconsin's unemployment rate has steadily dropped since Gov. Walker took office, despite the failed policies of the previous administration that culminated in a 9.2 percent unemployment rate and 150,000 lost jobs," Sparks said. "As our unemployment rate continues to drop, it's clear that Gov. Walker's policies are working and moving Wisconsin forward."

Walker spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the economy was turning around "but there is still a lot of work to do."

Despite the one-month drop in March, Wisconsin has added 15,600 private sector jobs this year.

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