Wisconsin Jobs Numbers and the Bigger Picture

Wisconsin Jobs Numbers and the Bigger Picture

Wisconsin ranks 38th in job creation and has its lowest unemployment rate since 2008. A glimpse at how the numbers fit in the bigger picture.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages earlier today (I know; I’m excited, too). This economic release always generates news, as it is largely considered to be a very accurate assessment of the jobs picture, much more so than month-by-month numbers. Today’s release, which shows changes from Sept., 2013, to Sept., 2014, places Wisconsin at 38th among 50 states in the pace job creation during that time with a 1.1 percent increase — a one-year total of 27,491 private sector jobs added.

Jobs are being created in Wisconsin, as they are in nearly all other states. Only two states have percentages in the red — Alaska (-0.1 percent) and West Virginia (-0.2 percent). Puerto Rico (-1.5 percent) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (-1.0 percent) are also losing jobs. Other states trailing Wisconsin in the overall rankings include Maine (0.3), Mississippi (0.5), Virginia (0.6), Montana (0.7), Connecticut (0.8), New Jersey (0.8), Hawaii (0.9), Oklahoma (1.0), and Pennsylvania (1.0).

Wisconsin is behind the national rate, which this time is a 2.0 percent increase. This is nothing new. As the Journal Sentinel noted last June, “The Badger State has consistently trailed the U.S. average by wide margins for most of the last 10 years.” The statehouse going from blue to red has not changed this larger trend.

The QCEW data also measures employment changes in the 340 largest counties in the U.S., which includes Wisconsin’s six largest counties — Brown, Dane, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Waukesha and Winnebago. None of these rank in the top 200, and none exceeded the statewide percentage increase of 1.1.

Here’s how those six stack up (number = percentage change):

  1. Dane: 1.1
  2. Outagamie: 0.8
  3. Milwaukee: 0.4
  4. Waukesha: 0.3
  5. Brown: – 0.2
  6. Winnebago: -0.6

Also released today: preliminary jobs data for February from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD), showing that the state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.8 percent, the lowest it’s been since 2008. Last week, DWD released more regionally-specific January jobs estimates, including a ranking by county.

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So what’s to make of all of this? Who knows, really. In all likelihood, the conclusions drawn will split along typically partisan lines. But it’s important to remember that there’s always more to the bigger picture of jobs in Wisconsin than what’s revealed in any one report.

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Dan Shafer was the digital editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Dan joined the magazine as assistant editor in 2014 and wrote the November 2014 cover story, "Downtown Horizons." He's worked as a reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee and an editor at ThirdCoast Digest. Contact him at daniel.shafer@milwaukeemag.com. He's on Twitter @danshaferMKE.