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Monday, May 9, 2011 at 9:49 PM by

A Look at Recent Employment Trends in Wisconsin

If Wisconsin has jobs on the brain, you can’t really blame us. Between January 2008 and October 2009, Wisconsin lost 171,400 jobs (seasonally adjusted), which amounts to 5.9 percent of all employment.

The recession decreased the number of jobs across the spectrum of industries, but the number of jobs in manufacturing in particular saw a precipitous decline. Nationally, the number of jobs in manufacturing declined more than twice as fast as the total number of jobs, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wisconsin’s labor force is heavily concentrated in manufacturing — in fact, Wisconsin has a higher percentage of its workforce in manufacturing than any other state. (You can read more about this in one of our issue briefs.) This concentration means that Wisconsin was particularly vulnerable to job loss.

There’s been some recent buzz about the pace of job growth in Wisconsin in the first few months of this year. After the recent free fall, any job growth is good – but let’s take a closer look and put this trend in perspective. Between January and March 2011, Wisconsin added 17,300 jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, seasonally adjusted. (Figures for March are preliminary.)

Here’s the glass-half-full way of looking at recent jobs figures: Of the 37,700 jobs that the Wisconsin economy has added since the low point of the recession, nearly half were created in the first quarter of 2011. At least employment figures are moving in the right direction.

But although the number of jobs is increasing, it is doing so at an excruciatingly slow rate. Wisconsin has recouped less than a quarter of the number of jobs we’ve lost since 2008, as shown in the chart below. Some policymakers have crowed about recent job growth in Wisconsin, but if we continue at the same pace as January-March 2011, we won’t reach pre-recession employment figures until the middle of 2013. That’s 30 months away. Meanwhile, the state’s population, and the number of people who need jobs, continues to grow.

Job growth in the aftermath of this recession has much slower than in past recoveries. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a great chart (see below) that compares national job growth after four recessions: 1981-82, 1990-91, 2001, and 2007-09. The other recessions were both much less severe in the percentage of total jobs lost, and had quicker recoveries afterwards.

What’s more, there’s evidence that the jobs that are being created in the aftermath of the recession are concentrated at the lower end of the pay spectrum. According to the National Employment Law Project:

  • Low-wage industries constituted 23 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, but 49 percent of recent growth since then;
  • Mid-wage industries constituted 36 percent of job loss, and 37 percent of post-recession growth; and
  • High-wage industries constituted 40 percent of job loss, but only 14 percent of recent growth.

Yes, there’s been a small uptick in job growth in the first part of this year. Employment in Wisconsin grew by 0.33% in March, the biggest increase since April 2010. But we have a long ways to go – probably several years – before we approach pre-recession employment levels. Let’s remember that when policymakers propose cuts to programs that support out-of-work families.

Tamarine Cornelius

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