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Mel Meder, Laura Dresser, Javier Rodriguez S. | Jan 12, 2017
Category: COWS, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

Wisconsin has the regrettable distinction of ranking among the worst states in the nation in terms of racial equality. Various aspects of the disparity – from education to jobs and income to incarceration – have been documented consistently for more than a decade. These disparities are gaining increasing attention from activists and policy makers. Even so, and despite considerable local and statewide efforts to close these gaps, too few in Wisconsin understand the way that Wisconsin’s level of racial inequality is, in fact, dramatically more pronounced than in other states.


Wisconsin's Extreme Racial Disparity seeks to support and fuel the efforts of so many who are organizing, strategizing and working to close the gap.
Mel Meder, Satya Rhodes-Conway, Laura Dresser, & Andrew Wolf | Dec 07, 2016
Category: COWS, State & Local Policy, High Road
New Jersey’s economy has not recovered from the recession like it could – and should – have. Economic difficulties that began with losses in manufacturing jobs throughout the 1980s have persisted. Despite a diverse population and a shift in land use from sprawling suburban growth to more infill development, job numbers and GDP are growing too slowly. And what growth there is, isn’t distributed equally. New Jersey struggles with extreme racial and economic disparities that distribute the benefits of the economy not as shared prosperity, but to the wealthy.

State policy can and must lift up working people and their families, creating a more equitable and inclusive New Jersey. The State must act to raise labor market standards, creating more jobs that pay good wages and provide full benefits. State economic development strategy should also adopt higher standards, ensuring that only businesses that provide good jobs are incentivized with public funds. Housing and transportation policy at the state level should direct resources and planning toward more connected, dense neighborhoods that are either near job centers or within easy, affordable transit access to job opportunities; key to this will be ensuring that affordable housing is available, especially in areas with increasing development. Additionally, policy shifts can uphold the civil rights of people of color and immigrants, while also protecting these communities from disproportionate health and economic impacts of environmental degradation. This report discusses a selection of such policies.
Laura Dresser, Hannah Halbert, and Stephen Herzenberg | Nov 30, 2016
Category: Jobs & Skills, Jobs & Skills: Job Quality & Industry Studies
Implementation of the Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA) is well underway. This process creates unprecedented opportunity to adopt policies and practices that boost job quality. Connecting workers with the best quality job possible serves job seekers better. More stable work means higher income, longer job tenure, and better predictability for managing the tensions between work and life. But beyond that, WIOA policies for job quality help protect public investments in training by ensuring that those investments are not simply lost in a revolving door of turnover. Policies that focus on better quality jobs help make WIOA resources a reward for employers who are already treating their workers with greater care, rather than subsidizing low-road competitors who may waste the investment. A new report produced by COWS, the Keystone Research Center in Pennsylvania, and Policy Matters Ohio, identifies three WIOA quality standards that can target public training investment where it will have stronger returns.

Published in National Association of Workforce Development Professionals newsletter, November 2016, page 5.
Nov 30, 2016
Category: Jobs & Skills: Workforce Development & Industry Partnerships, Jobs & Skills
In response to the federal Workforce Investment and Opportunity Act (WIOA), most states are now in the latter stages of developing federally required plans and policies for operating their systems of workforce development under WIOA. This process creates an unprecedented opportunity to build into each state’s plan concrete ideas for using state and local workforce policy and practice to boost job quality. By developing new policies that help local boards connect workers to the best possible jobs, and supporting employers – individually and in partnerships – with efforts to improve jobs, WIOA implementation can create a “high road in workforce development.” It can make workforce systems an enduring force for better job quality.
This brief proposes three concrete disbursement policies that allow for more effective and focused use of WIOA resources, by ensuring that employer partners are the best possible fit for job seekers in the system.

For more on job quality in WIOA, view article published in the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals newsletter, November 2016, page 5.
Joel Rogers | Nov 10, 2016
Category: High Road

Stumbling towwards Stockholm - A review of Lane Kenworthy, Social Democratic America, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Contemporary Sociology 45, 6 (November 2016): 703-707. 

Joel Rogers | Sep 23, 2016
Category: COWS
Laura Dresser, Joel Rogers, and Javier Rodriguez S. | Sep 02, 2016
Category: COWS, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

UPDATE: Read Chapter 4, "Income & Poverty," here.


In The State of Working Wisconsin 2016, COWS finds that the long shadow of the Great Recession is finally lifting in Wisconsin. 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.

Longer-term challenges that Wisconsin faces, long documented by COWS, remain daunting. Wages have been stagnant over the last three and a half decades and workers have very little to show for increasing productivity. Women earn less than men and the gap is slow to close. African Americans have suffered declining wages and growing disparity. The wage reward for higher education is evident, as is the difficulty of making ends meet without completing some post-secondary education. One-in-four workers toils in a poverty wage job and low-wage sectors are growing faster than better-paying ones. Racial disparities, while hardly unique to Wisconsin, are particularly extreme here. A variety of economic and social indicators of racial inequality consistently identify us as among the most racially unequal states in the nation.

View previous State of Working Wisconsin reports here.


Javier Rodriguez S., Mel Meder, Laura Dresser | Jul 06, 2016
Category: State & Local Policy, Wisconsin
The most essential challenge in the child care industry is the tension between the demand for more education within the child care teaching workforce and the very low pay-off for that education. A teacher with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education can expect to start at $10.00 per hour and will rarely make more than $13.00 – compared to $18.57 per hour for others in the state workforce who hold an associate degree. The gap for a bachelor’s degree is even larger.

The overwhelming majority of center directors and family providers both report that child care is a harder industry to be in today than three years ago. Center directors point especially to the difficulty attracting and retaining qualified staff. As the economic recovery continues and external job opportunities grow, these challenges are likely to become even more difficult to navigate. This report makes clear the challenge that confronts directors, providers, and teachers, but also
parents and policymakers as well. Child care quality will always be linked to job quality for the child care workforce. 

Wisconsin’s Child Care Workforce focuses on teachers and assistant teachers working at child care centers and self-employed family child care providers throughout the state. It draws on a 2015 survey developed and conducted by the Survey Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UWSC) and COWS. Information about child care teachers and assistant teachers was obtained through a survey of child care center directors. Information about family providers was obtained via a survey sent to these providers. The response rate for both centers and family providers was over 60 percent and the samples are representative geographically and in terms of the quality of child care in Wisconsin. 

Jun 28, 2016
Category: COWS, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy
Last month we reported a dramatic job loss of more than 10,000 jobs. This month, the labor market brings better news, with increases that move us back in the right direction. Since last month, Wisconsin added 5,500 jobs. This increase was driven by private sector job growth where 9,700 jobs were added. At the same time, some 4,200 government jobs were lost between April and May. The unemployment rate in Wisconsin dropped two tenths of percentage points and stands now at 4.2%.

Wisconsin Budget Project and COWS | Jun 21, 2016
Category: COWS, State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy
The economy is growing again, but gains are concentrated on the state’s richest residents. As in the nation, inequality is on the rise. Over the last 40 years, Wisconsin’s richest residents have experienced dramatic increases in income, yet the rest of the state’s residents have experienced little or no income growth. The widening chasm between the very highest earners and everyone else poses hardships for Wisconsin’s families, businesses, and communities. Families can’t thrive when income growth is nearly non-existent for everyone except those at the top, and businesses need a strong middle class bolstered by broad-based income growth to generate customers. Wisconsin communities pay the price if too many families and businesses fail to prosper. Growing income inequality is also bad for Wisconsin’s economic growth. To build a solid, fast-growing economy, we need to make sure that Wisconsin has a healthy, well educated workforce. But if nearly all the gains from economic growth benefit only a few, many Wisconsin residents won’t have the resources they need to become the kind of skilled workers our economy needs for the future. That hurts everyone.