Wisconsin Budget

Uneven Progress for Wisconsin Workers

Slow job growth, wage stagnation and one in four workers earn poverty wages.

By , Wisconsin Budget Project - Sep 6th, 2016 10:40 am
Burger King

Burger King

The latest annual State of Working Wisconsin report has some positive findings about recent trends for Wisconsin workers; however, it also shines a light on some ongoing challenges, and it concludes that Wisconsinites “all need stronger policy to support broadly shared prosperity.”

COWS (formerly known as the Center on Wisconsin Strategy) issues this report every Labor Day weekend. Because it’s an illuminating report, and Labor Day is an important holiday, I want to share the major findings – while minimizing my own labor this weekend. In that spirit, I am passing along several excerpts from the COWS press release.

On the plus side of the ledger, the report describes the positive effects in Wisconsin of the national economy’s gradual rebound from the Great Recession:

“The state has more jobs than ever before, unemployment rates have fallen to pre-recession levels, and workers that want full-time work are having an easier time finding it. Labor market opportunities are more clear and consistent than they have been in nearly a decade.”

In the words of Laura Dresser, COWS associate director and a co-author of the report: “Given the brutality of the Great Recession and the slow recovery from it, the progress on these key labor market indicators is very welcome news this year.”

Yet despite some recent positive developments for Wisconsin workers, the data in the report show that our state’s job growth has been well below the recovery in most other states, there are still very substantial racial and ethnic disparities, women still earn much less than men, and far too many Wisconsinites live in poverty. The following long excerpt from the press release sums up those challenges:

87,000 Missing Wisconsin Jobs: Slower Growth than the Nation – From January 2011 to June 2016, jobs in Wisconsin grew 7.1 percent while the national labor market grew 10.1 percent. If Wisconsin matched the national pace of growth, the state would have 87,319 more jobs.

Unemployment Down but Opportunity Still Unequal – From a high of over 9 percent in 2009, unemployment in the state has been steadily falling and is now 4.2 percent, below the level before the Great Recession. However, opportunity has not yet extended to all. Wisconsin African American unemployment (12 percent) is 3 times higher than Wisconsin’s white unemployment rate (4 percent). That racial disparity in unemployment rates is the third highest in the nation.

Long Term Wage Stagnation – Taking inflation into account, the median wage in Wisconsin grew by just forty cents since 1979, from $16.72 to $17.12 per hour in 2015 (2015 dollars). That’s an annual raise of less than 2 cents per hour.

Gender Gap Closing (Slowly) – The gender gap has narrowed in the last few decades. In 1980, at the median, for every dollar a man earned, women earned 59 cents. By 2015, women earned 81 cents. The shrinking gap is the result of an increase in women’s wages and declining wages for men (with those declines concentrated in the 1980s and early 90s).

Poverty-Wage Jobs in Wisconsin – One in four Wisconsin workers holds a poverty-wage job (wage under $11.56 per hour, not enough to keep a family of four out of poverty, even with full-time year-round work). Women and people of color are concentrated in these jobs. Importantly, forty percent of black workers hold poverty-wage jobs.

The State of Working Wisconsin is always an important reference, and you can find the full report here.

A report prepared jointly by COWS and the Wisconsin Budget Project on the subject of the income inequality in our state contains a number of recommendations for reducing the disparities and achieving the shared prosperity that is needed to for a prosperous Wisconsin. You can find that “Pulling Apart” report here.

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