Tough Times for Wisconsin’s Workers Cataloged in New Report

Monday, September 3, 2012 at 2:00 PM by

A report issued over the Labor Day weekend paints a troubling picture of trends for Wisconsin workers.  The new State of Working Wisconsin report by the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) contains a wealth of information about trends in the state and national economies.

The report notes that the sluggish recovery from the long and deep recession has been disappointing nationally, and even more so in Wisconsin last year as our state “fell off the weak national and regional pace of job growth.”  Although the state’s poor job performance in 2011 triggered debate about which source of jobs data to use, the COWS report says that regardless of the data source, “our job market is a national and regional laggard.”

Analyzing the data source recommended by the Governor and Department of Workforce Development, COWS researchers found the following:

  • Wisconsin’s rate of job growth in 2011 was the lowest in the Midwest.
  • Only nine other states had lower rates of job growth last year.
  • Average weekly wages fell 2.4% in Wisconsin in 2011.

Looking at longer-term trends in Wisconsin, going back a decade or so, most of the data is headed in the wrong direction. For example:

  • From 2000 to 2011, unemployment doubled, as did the percentage of workers who wanted full-time hours but could only secure part-time work.
  • Also during that period, the share of the unemployed out of work for more than six months tripled.
  • From 2000 to 2011, median wages of men grew slightly and for women increased 10.6% (adjusted for inflation), yet the median income of a four-person family has fallen by $8,500 – an inflation adjusted decline of 10%.
  • Although manufacturing employment has been growing in Wisconsin since January 2010, we have nevertheless endured a net loss one quarter of the 600,000 manufacturing jobs the state had in 2000.

As is almost invariably the case in an analysis of data relating to employment, income and poverty, the new report shows that there are wide racial disparities in our state. For example:

  • Wisconsin’s 24.9% unemployment rate for African Americans was the worst in the nation.
  • More than one in four African Americans who hold jobs in Wisconsin earn poverty ways (under $10.97 per hour).
  • The median wages of black men ($14.65/hr.) and black women ($13.84) lag the state’s median wage by more than $2.00 per hour.

Another noteworthy part of the report are the maps in the Executive Summary (p. 4) showing the growth from 2001 to 2012 in the percentage of students in each school district who are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. They paint a vivid picture of how child poverty has been growing in our state, which has been increasing the challenges that schools face.

Read more in the Executive Summary and see the new online supplement on the COWS website.

Jon Peacock

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