Wisconsin Unemployment Rate Drops to 5.9%
New employment data for Wisconsin was released today by state and federal officials, and the news is pretty positive, at least at first blush, but a closer examination of the new and updated figures reveals some bad news as well.
One very positive part of the new data is that the state appears to have gained 6,900 jobs in March, including 6,500 in the private sector. These figures are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary, seasonally-adjusted estimates for March. Compared to the BLS survey data from March 2013, Wisconsin has gained 38,400 total (nonfarm) jobs over the past 12 months. (To put that into context, Wisconsin would need to add an average of 62,500 private sector jobs per year to hit the Governor’s pledge of 250,000 new jobs during his first term.)
Although those preliminary March numbers and an encouraging drop in the state’s unemployment rate to 5.9% are noted very prominently in the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) press release, the bad news has to be ferreted out of the tables on pages 2 and 3 of that release. Read more
While Bills Advance in Minnesota and Elsewhere, Four Red States Are Poised for Minimum Wage Referenda
Republican opposition might bottle up the national minimum wage increase being pushed by the President, but the strong public support for a higher minimum wage is forcing action at the state level. Many blue states are approving substantial increases in the minimum hourly wage, and voters are putting increases on the ballot in a number of red states.
Today Minnesota became the latest state to pass a significant minimum wage increase. Within the last 24 hours, both houses approved a bill that would raise the minimum wage in the Gopher State to $8.00 per hour in August, and then in two more steps to $9.50 per hour in 2016. The increased wage would apply to businesses with more than half a million dollars in annual gross sales.
Beginning in 2017, the MN minimum wage would rise automatically with inflation, up to 2.5% a year. Read more
Poor residents of the Milwaukee area are more economically segregated than poor residents in any other large metropolitan area in the country, according to a new report from Atlantic Cities. The Milwaukee metropolitan area includes West Allis and Waukesha.
When medium and smaller-sized metropolitan areas are also included in the ranking, Milwaukee ranks second in the country in poverty segregation, behind only State College, Pennsylvania. Madison also ranks high in poverty segregation.
Areas where the poor are most segregated are in the Midwest and the Northeast, and the lowest levels occur in the Sunbelt, especially Florida, and the West.
Cities, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, should strive to avoid high levels of poverty segregation. According to the article: “This increasing concentration of poverty poses a host of problems to communities. Less advantaged communities suffer not just from a lack of economic resources but from everything from higher crime and drop-out rates to higher rates of infant mortality and chronic disease.” People living in segregated poverty also have a harder time getting access to jobs and quality schools. Read more
New employment figures show a familiar pattern: Wisconsin is adding private-sector jobs at a rate considerably below the national average.
In light of that persistent pattern, it comes as no surprise that the latest economic outlook report released today by the Department of Revenue indicates that Wisconsin will fall far short of the Governor’s goal of adding 250,000 private sector jobs. The Department of Revenue projects just 134,000 new jobs from 2010 to 2014.
The number of private sector jobs in Wisconsin grew by 1.2% between September 2012 and September 2013, a little more than half the national pace of 2.1%. Wisconsin ranked 35th among the states over this period for the rate of growth in private sector jobs.
The new job creation figures come from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which economists consider the most reliable source for employment figures. The downside is that this data source is not as current as other, less reliable sources for employment figures. Read more
Fate of the Federal Lifeline for Long-term Job-seekers Still Uncertain
Ten U.S. Senators announced today that they have reached a deal for restoring federal unemployment benefits for about 2 million people who have lost those benefits since the end of 2013. The compromise would extend the expired program through the end of May, and would make the restored benefits retroactive to the beginning of the year. That would be very welcome new for many jobless workers and their families who are struggling with one of the harshest winters in decades.
The deal appears to have at least 60 votes, which would make it immune from the filibusters that have stymied other efforts in the Senate to restore the federal lifeline for the long-term unemployed. Although the prospects for passage in the Senate now look very good, its chances in the House are unclear. Some House conservatives quickly condemned the bill today. Read more
Income inequality in Wisconsin is widening, according to a new report by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) and the Wisconsin Budget Project. The top 1% of earners in Wisconsin have experienced tremendous gains in average income in recent decades, while incomes for the bottom 99% have declined.
Key findings of the report include:
- Between 1979 and 2011, the average income of the top 1% in Wisconsin grew by 104%, while the average income of the bottom 99% dropped by 0.4%.
- The top 1% in Wisconsin had an average income of $783,000 in 2011, more than 18 times the average income of the bottom 99%.
- In 2011, 15.7% of income went to the top 1% in Wisconsin, a share that has more than doubled since the 1970s.
Over the last hundred years, income inequality has followed a U-shape in Wisconsin, with very high levels of income inequality during the 1920s and 1930s, much lower levels in the middle part of the century as economic gains were made at all income levels, and then climbing again to very high levels. Read more
State and local policymakers in many parts of the country are coming to the conclusion that too many workers get paid too little, and they are pushing for higher wage standards for workers. Yet in Wisconsin, lawmakers are moving in the opposite direction.
A balanced budget amendment in the U.S. Constitution would result in much longer and deeper recessions and would cause unnecessary job losses. When the economy goes into a dive and people are without jobs, the need for food stamps, health insurance and unemployment insurance rise sharply. Since tax revenue typically falls as the need for those programs rises, a balanced budget would require cuts to these safety net programs and other areas of spending at the worst possible time.
A big jump in state revenue that will be announced soon gives lawmakers an excellent opportunity to invest in Wisconsin’s economic future and to put the state on a sounder fiscal footing by filling budget holes.
A total of 13 states welcomed in the New Year Wednesday with minimum wage increases – thanks in many cases to formulas that automatically adjust it for inflation. Washington State leads the way, with the nation’s highest state minimum, which is now $9.32 an hour (compared to the federal minimum of $7.25). A 14th state, California, will also increase the minimum wage this year – to $9 per hour, but not until July.
According to an analysis by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), the minimum wage increases that took effect today directly benefit over 1.4 million people — 1,441,000 to be exact. An additional 1.1 million are expected to benefit as employer pay scales are adjusted upward to reflect the new minimum wages. A number of additional workers will benefit from local increases.