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Katya Spear | Mar 13, 2018
Category: State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Health in All Policies

First featured in the March 2018 Community Health issue of The Municipality - Your Voice. Your Wisconsin. Published by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.


To be reprinted nationally in Current Municipal Problems, a quarterly, with a bound annual volume. For those interested in identifying and solving problems of local government, it is published by Thomson Rueters.

Feb 15, 2018
Category: COWS, Jobs & Skills, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

In the fourth quarter of 2017, Wisconsin added 12,500 jobs, most of them in October. In contrast to the strong October, in December, Wisconsin actually lost jobs. Still, over the quarter, the state’s job base grew. Growth was driven by private sector gains, with the state adding 15,200 private jobs. The state lost 2,700 public sector jobs across the quarter capping off a very weak year in the public sector. Wisconsin’s ended 2017 with 3,300 fewer public sector jobs than a year ago. Still, as with the quarter, so with the year. Private sector growth meant that the state jobs base grew 1.4 percent: Wisconsin added 40,200 jobs in 2017. The unemployment rate continues to drop slowly across the nation and Wisconsin is not an exception. Unemployment in Wisconsin stands now at 3.0%, significantly below the level of the end of 2016 and at its lowest point since the recession.


View job watch archives here.

Nov 14, 2017
Category: COWS, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy

In the third quarter of 2017, Wisconsin posted modest job growth, adding just 7,300 jobs. Growth in September had to make up for job losses in the previous months. In August, the state lost 7,100 jobs – the worst month in jobs in more than a year. Private sector job growth in September was strong enough to make up for August’s losses and the state completed the third quarter of 2017 with 2,900 more private sector jobs. Wisconsin’s public sector has been unsteady but ended the quarter with 4,400 additional jobs after a strong September. Public sector employment is now slightly above the January level, despite losses over the summer. The unemployment rate continues to drop slowly across the nation and Wisconsin is not an exception. Unemployment in Wisconsin stands now at 3.5%, significantly below the level of the end of 2016, but up slightly from an early summer low of 3.1%.




View Job Watch Archives here.

Mel Meder, Satya Rhodes-Conway, Laura Dresser, & Andrew Wolf | Nov 01, 2017
Category: 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.
Nov 01, 2017
Category: State & Local Policy, Wisconsin, Jobs & Skills: Wisconsin Economy, Workers & Policy
Criminalizing hard working families and falling into irrational fear harms all Wisconsin families and the Wisconsin economy. Immigrants are a core part of the Wisconsin economy and contributing to this state through taxes, education, and self-owned businesses. The state should be pursuing ways to welcome and build the skills of this community.
Laura Dresser | Sep 28, 2017
Category: Jobs & Skills: Workforce Development & Industry Partnerships, COWS, State & Local Policy, High Road, Jobs & Skills: Job Quality & Industry Studies

Laura Dresser (2017), Human Capital in Context: Policies that Shape Urban Labor Markets. In Jobs and the Labor Force of Tomorrow: Migration, Training, Education, edited by Michael Pagano University of Illinois Press: Chicago, IL.

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, Jobs & Skills, 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, State & Local Policy, 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.

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.