Stagnant job growth continues on Evers’ watch

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Wisconsin ranks near the bottom in job growth over the past year, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The anemic job growth on Gov. Tony Evers’ watch is the real story behind last week’s glowing Department of Workforce Development-driven reports on Wisconsin’s “strong job market” in perilous economic times.

Wisconsin ranked 49th in total job growth in the last year (May 2021 to May 2022), a minuscule 1.9% rate, or 54,500 jobs added to the economy. Only Kansas (1.3%) recorded slower growth.

The Badger State ranked 45th in job creation for 2021, according to federal Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, considered the gold standard of workforce tracking.

Since Evers took office, Wisconsin ranks 37th in total job growth. As of the May employment release, the state is still nearly 53,000  jobs short of the numbers reported in December 2018, one month before the Democrat took office.

Of course, the beginning of the pandemic, when Evers was shutting down much of Wisconsin’s economy, didn’t help matters. Upon a court-ordered end to the governor’s illegal stay-at-home orders and the sunset of generous unemployment benefits, hiring has been humming again, even during soaring inflation not seen in 40 years. Compared to many other states, however, job growth in Wisconsin lags well behind.

Wisconsin ranks 33rd in the nation in total job growth since the pandemic started, according to BLS. But the state is still 62,500 total nonfarm jobs short of where it was in February 2020, a month before the pandemic hit Wisconsin.

You wouldn’t have known that from the news stories last week focusing on the state’s historically low unemployment rate.

Dennis Winters, chief economist at Evers’ Department of Workforce Development, boasted to reporters about the “record high employment” and “essentially record low unemployment” of 2.9 percent

“So this all sits pretty well with the state of the economy,” Winters said.

He didn’t mention the sluggish year-over-year job growth or the lower-third jobs ranking since his boss took office.

DWD likes to talk about the 3.06 million people working at Wisconsin jobs. True, it is a historic high. But compared to other states, Wisconsin still ends up in the middle of the pack with a labor force basically unchanged over the last year.

Meanwhile, the state ranks near the bottom (48th) in the nation for attracting workers, according to report last week by The Center Square. Only Missouri and Vermont ranked worse.

“Our members tell us that 51% of them have job openings that they can’t fill. That’s up 4% from April, by the way,” Bill Smith, Wisconsin state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, told the publication. “This a historic number, and comes against the backdrop of 46% of members who’ve reported raising compensation.”

Job openings in the Badger State broke a record in January. Employers still are struggling to fill them.

Evers and President Biden refuse to ask able-bodied adults on Medicaid to look for work. Evers vetoed a Republican bill that would have demanded the administration follow the work search requirements already in state law. And the governor has balked on implementing job training programs for able-bodied adults on FoodShare. He has expanded welfare programs while attempting to end work training program requirements.

And the latest data show slowing job growth ahead, as high inflation erodes income gains. The downturn, experts say, could take a long time to pass through.

“The transition is going to be very difficult,” Seth Carpenter, global chief economist at Morgan Stanley and a former Fed economist, told the New York Times last week. “At least historically, it takes a really long time for inflation to come down, even after the economy slows.”

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