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Oct 09, 2019
Category: COWS, State & Local Policy, High Road, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

Read the full "Race in the Heartland" report here.


In the 20th Century, people from around the world came to Wisconsin and the Midwest, seeking opportunity in the industrial boom. Manufacturing and unions helped create good jobs for many black workers, but discrimination and segregation limited that sharply. When industrial jobs declined, black Midwesterners suffered the most. Over the last 40 years, opportunity and outcomes for black residents in Wisconsin have fallen below national averages. As a result, black Wisconsinites face stubborn barriers and road blocks that many white people don’t even know are there. Racial disparity in Wisconsin is not inevitable, but closing the gap will require a broad focus and multifaceted approach.


'Wisconsin's Extreme Racial Disparity' provides a Wisconsin-focused summary to 'Race in the Heartland', which shows the persistence of racial disparities in the Midwest and what can be done about them.

Wisconsin has the regrettable distinction of ranking among the worst states in the nation for racial inequality. Disparities among black and white residents of our state – spanning poverty, unemployment, educational attainment, and incarceration – have been documented consistently for more than a decade. Although activists and policymakers have increasingly focused on addressing these issues, they remain pressing.

'Race in the Heartland' and 'Wisconsin's Extreme Racial Disparity' provide a careful historical context and a broadly informed policy framework that are critical to winning greater racial equity throughout this region. 

Laura Dresser & Joel Rogers | Aug 30, 2019
Category: COWS, State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

Each year on Labor Day, COWS draws a picture of how working people in Wisconsin are faring. The long report, The State of Working Wisconsin, is released biannually on even-numbered years and looks at the economy comprehensively from a working-family perspective. In odd-numbered years, like 2019, we provide a more abbreviated and focused report, called The State of Working Wisconsin: Facts & Figures.


On some of the most well-known economic indicators, there is good news for Wisconsin workers. The unemployment rate in the state has been consistently low. The economy is steadily adding jobs. These are important measures for working people’s lives. When jobs are more available not only is it easier to secure a job, it is also easier to get the hours of work you want, to be able to ask for time-off you need, and to make ends meet. This Labor Day, with the memory of the Great Recession of 2007 now fading from memory, workers across Wisconsin have this good news to celebrate.


Even so, many working families in the state feel stressed and stretched. In this report, then, we provide information on few key long-term trends that are contributing to the stress even in the context of low unemployment. Looking across the last forty years, the challenges working people face are clear. Wage growth has been anemic. Income inequality is reaching new highs. Unions, which have been so critical to supporting workers in this state, are in serious decline. Additionally, state policy, which could be helping to close gaps, is actually exacerbating these trends. From tax changes that reward our highest income families to rejection of health insurance to cover our families in need, policy continues to pave the low-road for our state.


View previous years' 'State of Working Wisconsin' reports here.

Joel Rogers | Apr 24, 2019
Category: COWS
Satya Rhodes-Conway, James Irwin, & Matthew Braunginn | Feb 27, 2019
Category: Jobs & Skills: Workforce Development & Industry Partnerships, Energy: Energy Efficiency, State & Local Policy, Energy

Local leaders are careful stewards of their communities’ resources, and plan with caution to avoid future catastrophe. Climate change poses a tremendous risk to communities and the investments that their retirees and others will rely on in the future. There is a growing toolbox of measures cities can take to combat climate change. One of these tools, divestment from fossil fuels, is ethical, viable, and a moral imperative.


Fortunately there is also a significant and growing array of reinvestment opportunities, from traditional market funds to targeted community investments. Some of these require more diligence and financial sophistication than others. In all cases, it is possible to construct an investment structure that mitigates financial and carbon risk while investing in projects that offer market returns and fight climate change. Successful divest/invest strategies are a matter of political will. As the saying goes, political will is a renewable resource in and of itself.


First steps a city should take:

  • Determine if you have funds that should be divested and work to reduce your carbon risk. Reinvest the capital moved from fossil fuel stocks – consider a Green Bank or Revolving Loan Fund
  • Identify what opportunities there are to attract “fossil free” investments to sustainable projects in your city via green bonds or other mechanisms
  • Ensure that any jobs created through this process are quality jobs
David Abel and Katya Spear | Feb 04, 2019
Category: COWS, Energy: Energy Efficiency, State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Energy

From the report by David Abel and Katya Spear.

Wisconsin has a current energy spending deficit of $14.4 billion ($14.4 billion in expenditures leaves the state annually). With no substantial in-state fossil fuel resources, reliance on fossil fuels is hurting the Wisconsin economy. Transitioning to in-state energy resources would bring dollars and jobs back to the state of Wisconsin and provide a win-win-win strategy for economic growth, social well-being, and environmental protection. Full report here.

Prepared for Nick Nichols, Sustainability Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Katya Spear, Mariah Young-Jones, Satya Rhodes-Conway, and Mary Ebeling | Nov 08, 2018
Category: Transportation

How can city leadership on transit create more equitable, sustainable, and economically vibrant cities?


Transit service provides a critical link for people in cities, offering access to key destinations that provide jobs, education, entertainment, and connection to family and friends. But around the country, transit ridership is falling. In response to this and to competition from mobility providers like Uber and Lyft, many cities are just maintaining or reducing transit investments and commitments.


Rather than throw up their hands in the face of falling ridership and revenue streams, cities need to invest in this critical resource. Doing so can provide a wealth of co-benefits that innovative cities care deeply about: from the environmental benefits of reducing congestion and car travel, to the economic benefits of connecting people and jobs, to crucial improvements in equity and disparities that come with providing better access to historically disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.


Our new brief, Leading on Transit, lays out these critical connections and describes how cities, in partnership with their transit agencies, public, and other agencies and institutions, can work to enhance transit. It describes how cities around the country are leading on transit and what local governments need to know to enhance their transit networks.

Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. 1, D. Gavin Luter and Camden Miller | Oct 30, 2018
Category: COWS, High Road

The essay explains the reasons why and concludes with a section on a more robust strategy higher education can pursue in the quest to bring about desirable change in the university neighborhood.


Taylor, Jr. HL, Luter DG, Miller C. The University, Neighborhood Revitalization, and Civic Engagement: Toward Civic Engagement 3.0Societies. 2018; 8(4):106.

Eric Sundquist, Mary Ebeling, Robbie Webber, Chris McCahill, Satya Rhodes-Conway, & Katya Spear | Oct 22, 2018
Category: State & Local Policy, Transportation
Traditional Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies are increasingly used by large employers and building owners to encourage the use of alternatives to driving - things like providing bus passes, bike share, and affordable carpooling. But most existing best practices overlook the role of local government decision makers, whose decisions on policy affecting local transportation options, planning and regulation of land use, structure and enforcement of fees, taxes and other financial signals can play a big role in increasing or decreasing vehicle demand.
Laura Dresser, Matthew Braunginn and Emanuel Ubert | Oct 02, 2018
Category: COWS, State & Local Policy, High Road, Wisconsin
Securing strong economic opportunity for Wisconsin’s working families and closing racial and ethnic income disparity requires strong attention to the access and success of students of color at our state’s colleges and universities.

In this report we focus on college degrees – both the two year associates degrees offered by the 16 colleges of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and four year bachelor’s degrees offered by colleges throughout the University of Wisconsin System (UWS).
Laura Dresser, Joel Rogers, Emanuel Ubert, and Anna Walther | Aug 31, 2018
Category: Jobs & Skills: Workforce Development & Industry Partnerships, COWS, Jobs & Skills, State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Job Quality & Industry Studies, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy, Jobs & Skills: Greener Skills

Read Executive Summary here.

Download infographic here.

A decade after the Great Recession, Wisconsin’s economy, at least in employment and family income, has finally and meaningfully recovered. Unemployment and involuntary part-time employment rates are low. And, nearly a fifth of the way into this new century, the value of the median income of four-person families finally exceeds its 2000 level. This is very welcome news for working Wisconsinites.



This good news is not untarnished. Despite job gains, Wisconsin’s job growth is slow relative to the national pace. Wages are still in no way keeping pace with worker productivity. Wisconsin is comparatively weak in more lucrative occupations: professional, scientific, technical, and information. Our manufacturing sector, while growing, is a still significantly smaller than at the beginning of the century. And inequality continues to grow. One in five workers currently holds a poverty-wage job with few benefits. Rural economies are declining. Wisconsin’s black/white disparities still lead the nation.