Report Finds Slow Economic Recovery Has Still Left Some Wisconsinites Behind

Sep 28, 2018

Over the last four decades, Wisconsin has doubled its productivity. But the average worker is earning just a dollar more per hour.

Credit State of Working Wisconsin 2018

Like many states, Wisconsin has struggled to regain the ground it lost in the recession of 2008. A decade later, wages have finally recovered and unemployment is at a historic low.

But Wisconsin’s recovery has lagged behind national averages. A recent report by the Madison-based think-tank COWS found that one in five Wisconsinites continue to earn poverty-level wages, and most workers have found little growth in their wages over the last four decades - despite nearly doubling the value of goods and services created in Wisconsin during that same time period.

"That’s the kind of long-term wage stagnation that I think families have experienced and one of the reasons that in the state of Wisconsin the response has been to commit more and more hours to work," says Laura Dresser, the associate director of COWS and one of the authors on the report detailing the state's financial woes. 

"That's the kind of long-term wage stagnation that I think families have experienced and one of the reasons that in the state of Wisconsin the response has been to commit more and more hours to work."

The report, Why Economic Recovery Still Hasn’t Come For Many Wisconsinites, looks at various methods of gauging economic growth, and in many of them, Wisconsin has consistently lagged behind the rest of the country. 

"We would have about 130,000 more jobs today than we do - which is a lot in an economy of about 3 million jobs - if we had grown at the national rate, and we haven't," Dresser explains. 

She adds that recovery in most Midwestern states has been relatively slow (aside from Minnesota and Iowa). Still, another local analyst created an algorithm, which found that Wisconsin should have created 70-80,000 more jobs in that same time period. 

"I think the state has kind of learned to tolerate a level of disparity and opportunity between the black and white population that is actually exceptionally large."

The report by COWS also found racial disparities in Wisconsin's economy lead the nation. While the overall unemployment rate is less than 3%, unemployment is three times higher for black Wisconsinites - at 9%. 

"Nine percent is what we call a recession, you know, at the state level when nine percent of the overall population was unemployed, that was a crisis level of unemployment," says Dresser. "I think the state has kind of learned to tolerate a level of disparity and opportunity between the black and white population that is actually exceptionally large and quite unacceptable."