Empower Wisconsin | Sept. 24, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
Madison — Perhaps it slipped the attention of the mainstream media, but Wisconsin’s economy has lost a lot of jobs since Gov. Tony Evers took office in January.
And eroding business confidence has much to do with the declining numbers, economic experts say.
The Badger State has seen its employment base decline by 10,500 jobs since the first of the year. Unemployment edged up to 3.1 percent, still low compared to the national jobless rate of 3.7 percent but rising from historic lows of 2.8 percent earlier in the year.
As University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Noah Williams pointed out last week, Wisconsin has experienced one of the largest declines in employment among states since the beginning of the year. Wisconsin ranks third in that dubious category, behind Ohio, which has lost 10,700 jobs, and Maryland, which saw its employment pool decline by 15,000 jobs since January.
The Badger State is on pace to record nearly 12,000 mass layoffs, which would be the highest number of such job losses over the past decade, according to Empower Wisconsin’s recent review of labor statistics.
Concern about the policies and regulations being pushed by Democrat Evers and his grow-government administration is rising in the business community.
Evers’ first budget proposal included capping the state’s popular manufacturing and agricultural tax credit, and his administration has outlined stringent environmental regulations. Such grow-government initiatives have had a chilling effect on some business development.
“I think that feeds into the broader uncertainty,” economist Williams, founding director of the Center for Research On the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) and Juli Plant Grainger professor of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Empower Wisconsin earlier his month. “There’s quite a bit of uncertainty, generally speaking, in this economy right now.”
“It’s true the new era of divided government has certainly increased uncertainty, even though, so far, not much has changed,” Williams said of Democrats controlling the executive branch and Republicans leading the Legislature. While Republicans rejected Evers’ tax increase on manufacturers, the governor’s support of a significantly higher minimum wage and his drive to beef up regulations on business play into that uncertainty, Williams added.
Wisconsin’s economy shed 1,400 private sector jobs last month and the state’s year-over-year job growth declined to 0.32 percent. That’s the worst performance since July 2010, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, according to the U.S., Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Growth has been anaemic. So far this year Wisconsin has averaged private sector job growth of 0.6 percent, according to Milwaukee Biz Times.
Evers’ Department of Workforce Development (DWD) blamed a rapidly aging workforce for the employment base’s declines.
“To replace retiring workers, while also filling new positions, Wisconsin’s employers and workforce partners, very much including DWD, will need to continue their aggressive, creative, and inclusive workforce recruitment efforts,” Caleb Frostman, DWD said in a press release.
But more Wisconsin businesses, particularly in the manufacturing sector, are urging the Evers administration to stop its aggressive regulatory policies.
Wisconsin’s ranking in average job growth dropped to 40th percent in the first seven months of the year, down from 36th in 2018.
The troubling numbers rated nary a mention in much of Wisconsin’s mainstream press, a press that was quick to point out any employment decline or stagnancy during the administration of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Evers’ predecessor.