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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.

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.
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.
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. 

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., 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.