Searching for Bright Spots in the New Wisconsin Job Creation Figures

Friday, September 16, 2011 at 9:32 PM by

Wisconsin lost 2,300 jobs in August, according to the figures that came out yesterday. This marks the second month in a row that Wisconsin has lost jobs. (You can read some of our commentary on past jobs figures here, here, and here.)

Governor Walker has made much of his pledge to create 250,000 private sector jobs in Wisconsin. Between January and August 2011, the number of jobs in the private sector rose by only 18,300. At that pace, it will take nearly seven years to add 250,000 jobs. With new evidence the economic recovery may be slowing, we should be prepared for more months with negative job creation figures.

It’s clear that overall, the Wisconsin economy is adding jobs more slowly than anyone would like. But how are individual industries doing? Are some adding jobs faster than others? To find out, I compared jobs figures for August 2010 and August 2011 (which are preliminary and subject to change) to identify any potential bright spots in the Wisconsin economy.

Unfortunately, even the good news is mixed. The industry in Wisconsin that added jobs at the fastest rate over the last year is what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as “arts, entertainment, and recreation.” This category includes a wide variety of people working in businesses related to tourism, recreation, and leisure, including receptionists, security guards, groundsworkers, janitors, cashiers, and food service workers.

The good news is that over the last year, Wisconsin added 7,400 workers in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry, increasing the number of jobs in this industry by a whopping 21 percent. The bad news is that these are low-paying jobs and are often seasonal or part-time.

The disproportionate growth of low-wage jobs in the post-recession period is not unique to Wisconsin. In its July 2011 report on job trends, the National Employment Law Project noted: “In the weak recovery to date, employment growth has been concentrated in lower-wage occupations, with minimal growth in mid-wage occupations and net losses in higher-wage occupations.“

That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots in the state’s economy. Wisconsin’s manufacturing industry is adding jobs at a pace five times as fast as the rest of the state’s private sector. Over the last year, we’ve gained 15,300 jobs in manufacturing, increasing employment in that area by about 4 percent. Wisconsin has the second-highest percentage of its workforce in manufacturing among all states, after Indiana. Manufacturing jobs tend to be relatively high-paying.

Industries that have lost the most jobs over the last year include the construction industry, which dropped 5,900 jobs, or 6 percent. The number of jobs in state government decreased by 6,000 over the last year, or 6 percent.

It’s not just Wisconsin — the entire country has been slow to add jobs. To address the jobs deficit, President Obama has proposed the American Jobs Act, aimed at lifting employment levels and improving transportation and educational infrastructure. His plan would include $536 million for Wisconsin to support jobs in education and first responder services, and $575 million for Wisconsin to invest in highway and transit modernization. It’s not clear yet what portions of the proposal will find favor with House Republicans.

Tamarine Cornelius

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