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Sep 18, 2017
Category: Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy
After an inconsistent 2016, Wisconsin started off 2017 with a modest job growth across the first quarter. January through March, the state added 12,800 jobs. The growth was concentrated in January and February and offset job losses of 3700 jobs in March. Over the quarter, private sector creation compensated for the loss of almost 7000 jobs in the public sector. Additionally, the unemployment rate continues to edge down nationally and in Wisconsin. Unemployment in Wisconsin stands now at 3.4%, significantly below the level of the end of 2016.
Joel Rogers, Laura Dresser | Aug 31, 2017
Category: COWS, State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy
For more than two decades now, annually, on Labor Day, COWS reports on how working people are faring in the state. The State of Working Wisconsin, released biannually on even-numbered years since  1996, is our long-form report, and looks at the economy comprehensively from a working-family perspective. In odd-numbered years, also biannually, we provide a more abbreviated and focused report, called The State of Working Wisconsin 2017: Facts & Figures

In this year’s report, we provide our overview of some of the most critical issues facing working people in the state. The issues, taken together, are daunting – slow growth in the Wisconsin labor market, long-term stagnation in wages, extreme black/white disparity, increasing income inequality, and declining unionization. The report provides a chance to take stock of what the data say about working people in Wisconsin. 

To be sure, there is good news for workers in the state. Unemployment is low and the economy is steadily adding jobs. Given the brutal aftermath of the Great Recession, the low unemployment rate is good news indeed.

But unemployment rate, so often touted by the Governor, is just one indicator; other data helps draw a picture that is more nuanced and markedly less worthy of celebration. Even the rate of unemployment, low overall, is unevenly distributed: in Wisconsin, African American’s are nearly three times more likely to be unemployed than whites. Our job growth is steady, but falls short of the national pace. As we’ve long documented, the generational context of slow wage growth and increasing inequality are real and pressing issues in the state as well.
Wisconsin Budget Project and COWS | Aug 08, 2017
Category: Jobs & Skills: Workforce Development & Industry Partnerships, COWS, High Road, Wisconsin

Income Inequality Near Record Levels 

The income gap between the rich and the poor remains near its highest level ever, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Budget Project and COWS at UW Madison. The wide chasm between the very highest earners and everyone else poses hardships for Wisconsin’s families, communities, and businesses.

Joel Rogers | Jul 05, 2017
Category: COWS
Laura Dresser, Javier Rodriguez, Mel Meder | May 11, 2017
Category: State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

In Wisconsin, policy makers seem to increasingly assume that work, and work alone, can provide a decent standard of living. However, working families continue to face a slew of challenges – low wages, inadequate benefits, insufficient hours – generated by the very jobs that are supposed to be the answer. This report highlights the disconnect between state policies and the realities of Wisconsin families working in jobs at or near the poverty line.


The landscape of public support systems is changing in the state of Wisconsin, in the direction of making benefits more difficult to access for people who toil in bad jobs or cannot secure employment at all. A sharp turn toward more accessibility by redesigning the work requirements and better understanding the nature of bad jobs is needed.

Mar 21, 2017
Category: COWS, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

Wisconsin ended 2016 with 2.93 million jobs. In terms of job growth, the year was not particularly strong or consistent. Wisconsin’s December job total is just slightly above the level reached at the end of the summer. In the last quarter of 2016, the Wisconsin labor market grew by 10,500 jobs, or an average of just over 3,000 jobs per month. 


Wisconsin’s labor market is growing and is well above 2007 levels, but current opportunity lags behind the level established for workers in 2007. These dynamics are clear in the job deficit figure. If the state’s labor market had grown as fast as the population of potential workers, the state would have 79,402 more jobs today than it does. 


Wisconsin Job Watch: 4th Quarter 2016 Update marks a change - COWS will now provide a quarterly picture of how Wisconsin's economy is faring.


View Wisconsin Job Watch archives here.

Laura Dresser, Mary C. King, and Raahi Reddy | Mar 14, 2017
Category: COWS, State & Local Policy, Jobs & Skills: Job Quality & Industry Studies

Oregon’s current care economy is vast and largely invisible. Currently underinvested, it creates and exacerbates poverty and inequality. We are missing the opportunity to invest adequately in the care economy in order to build a stronger, more inclusive economy and better life for us all. This report seeks to bring care work into view.


Earning roughly $10 per hour, paid caregivers—nearly all women and disproportionately women of color—are seriously underpaid for the essential work that they do and the skills they bring. Far too many must rely on public benefits like food stamps just to make ends meet. Alongside this substantial and poorly compensated paid care workforce is a legion of unpaid care workers. A very conservative measure suggests that unpaid care generates the equivalent of 167,000 full-time care jobs a year inside families in Oregon.


Additionally, the cost of care is extremely high. Full-time, center-based infant care for one child cost 51 percent of median income for single parent Oregon families for 2014, and 15 percent of median income for married-couple families, in stark contrast to the federal benchmark for “affordable” child care of 10 percent of family income. The private market for long-term care for seniors and people living with disabilities or chronic health conditions can also be prohibitively expensive. Medicaid provides almost half of the non-family funding for long-term care, but only to those who have exhausted their assets and income. 


To change the care economy, the State of Oregon must invest resources directly into it. For that investment to pay the highest returns economically and socially, it should be through comprehensive programs that support unpaid caregivers; make paid care more available, accessible, affordable, and culturally appropriate; and employ paid caregivers with wages and working conditions that allow for dignity, comfort and access to care themselves.










Rhandi Berth, Laura Dresser, and Emanuel Ubert | Feb 21, 2017
Category: Jobs & Skills: Workforce Development & Industry Partnerships, COWS, Jobs & Skills: Job Quality & Industry Studies









Manufacturing in the Midwest continues to evolve. Firms increasingly rely on highly specialized and flexible processes, deploying new technology that redefines workers’ jobs and the skills needed for them. In Milwaukee, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP)/BIG STEP has spearheaded the creation of a new registered apprenticeship in response to these dynamic forces. Industrial Manufacturing Technicians (IMT) are now working and being trained at firms across the upper Midwest. The success of this apprenticeship derives directly from the WRTP/BIG STEP’s long-standing and deep relationships with manufacturing firms and labor unions built over the course of two decades. The success also owes to the long tradition of apprenticeship in Wisconsin and the ways this project has built from the existing model. This paper offers the story of this apprenticeship innovation which is remaking apprenticeship for the new and rapidly evolving manufacturing sector.


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.