Fact-Check: Pritzker Called Illinois’ Workforce the Nation’s Most Educated. He’s Wrong.

In praising the state for its ability to attract business, Democratic governor candidate J.B. Pritzker stretches the truth about the educational accomplishments of Illinois’ workforce.

In a typical race for governor, the incumbent would be the one talking up his state’s strengths while the challenger might lament shortcomings. But nothing is typical about the battle between incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner and Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker.

Defying convention, Rauner has spent a good portion of his term stressing the negative. He has said Illinois is in a “death spiral" and complained that Indiana is “kicking our tails.”

A few weeks ago, Rauner had to do damage control after publicly dissing the workforce in Downstate Champaign-Urbana, home of the main campus of the University of Illinois.

With the incumbent routinely calling into question the state’s ability to attract business, Pritzker recently tried the opposite tack in a video tweeted out by his campaign.

“We have the most educated, dedicated workforce in the entire nation and that is why businesses want to come here,” Pritzker says in the clip, which features footage of the candidate visiting offices, farms and classrooms.

Tops in the nation is a high bar to meet when it comes to assessing the educational achievement of Illinois workers. So we thought Pritzker’s claim worth checking out.

Cum laude, yes—but certainly not summa

“Dedicated” is an unknowable state of mind, so it’s impossible to assess the second beat of Pritzker’s statement. Educational achievement, however, is a widely measured concept.

A report ranking states from most to least educated produced by the financial information site WalletHub, for instance, received considerable coverage this year. And U.S. News & World Report also routinely releases lists of the states with the highest education levels.

Neither ranks Illinois as number one among states—or even in the top ten.

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We asked Pritzker’s campaign to explain Illinois’ absence from the top of those rankings, and spokesman Jason Rubin didn’t attempt to back up his boss with facts. Instead, Rubin reframed Pritzker’s statement as opinion.

“Unlike Bruce Rauner, J.B. Pritzker believes Illinois has the most dedicated, educated workforce in the country,” Rubin wrote in an email.

The gold standard for ranking education achievement among the states is the U.S. Census, which also provides estimates for the share of each state’s workforce that holds degrees. That is a metric more closely in line with Pritzker’s claim.

On that count, Illinois fares slightly better than it did in the broader assessments from WalletHub and U.S. News. According to the Census, nearly 40 percent of Illinois’ labor force had attained at least a Bachelor’s degree as of 2016, the most recent year for which data was available.

That puts Illinois’ workforce in 10th place nationally. Tops on the list was Massachusetts.

By a slightly different measure, Minnesota leads the states when it comes to the share of the labor force with at least some college credit or a community college Associate’s degree. Illinois was 13th.

Illinois does, however, have an edge over its immediate neighboring states when it comes to its share of college-educated workers, census data show. That is a factor that could bear importance for white-collar businesses looking to relocate to the region.

Chicago-based demographer Rob Paral said that’s not surprising given that Chicago, which is home to roughly one-fifth of Illinois’ population, boasts the highest percentage of college graduates among the nation’s seven largest cities.

Our ruling

Pritzker said Illinois has “the most educated workforce … in the entire nation.”

But census figures show the state ranks tenth for the share of its workforce that holds a Bachelor's degree or higher.

When pressed, Pritzker’s campaign made no attempt to back up his claim, restating it as a matter of opinion rather than fact.

Pritzker’s praise for the educational prowess of Illinois’ workforce is not entirely out of left field, but it falls well short of the numbers. We rate it False.

Sources

Video: J.B. Pritzker, on Twitter, July 31, 2018

WalletHub: 2018’s Most and Least Educated States in America

“The Ten Most Educated States,” U.S. News & World Report, May 8, 2018

Email interview: Jason Rubin, spokesman for J.B. Pritzker, Aug. 1, 2018

U.S. Census: American Community Survey 1-Year Educational Attainment by Employment Status (Ages 25-64), 2016

Phone interview: Rob Paral, Rob Paral and Associates, Aug. 2, 2018

“Trends in Education and Income in Chicago,” Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Blog, Dec. 12, 2017

About the Author

Kiannah Sepeda-Miller

Kiannah Sepeda-Miller is a reporter with the Better Government Association's investigative team. Prior to joining the BGA, she covered state government for The Associated Press while earning her master's in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield in 2017. She also holds a B.A. in sociology from Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.