Wisconsin’s Regional Employment Growth
The Wisconsin economy in the 1990s benefited from the long period of growth experienced by the US economy- my. And just like the US economy, some parts of the state have benefited more than others. If we look at recent unemployment rates, as one measure of economic activity, we note unemployment rates below 2% in Madison and Dane County and rates below 4% in the Metropolitan Milwaukee region, with rates below 2% in Waukesha County within the region. Other parts of the state are generally between these endpoints (only two areas exceed 4% unemployment). These low rates were thought to be unattainable ten years ago.
How did we get to where we are today? Where did the many jobs come from? And was it just the creation of jobs that has contributed to the low unemployment rates? The bulk of this report focuses on answering the question of who created the jobs. Once again, we look to see what geographic areas, what industries, what size employers and the like have been contributing the most to the net employment growth in the state during the 1990s. The report breaks out the eight largest metropolitan areas of the state for special attention and lumps the rest of the state into a ninth category. Each is examined in detail as to the sources of employment growth. By the conclusion of the report the reader will have a thorough understanding of the relative role of a number of factors in employment growth.
On the second question, that of whether the growth in employment was sufficient to create the low levels of unemployment, the answer, unfortunately, is no. One of the main reasons why Wisconsin has low unemployment rates, rates well below the national average, is that we have concurrently experienced a decline in the rate of growth of the workforce. We have relatively fewer individuals coming into the labor force seeking work. In fact, in some parts of the state the number of persons turning 16 years old is smaller than the number of individuals who are retiring from employment. This mismatch leads to enviably low unemployment rates, but the low rates and the modest increments to the labor force also lead to slower employment growth. The areas of the state that have experienced the fastest employment growth also have experienced the fastest growth of population. For example, Brown County’s population grew 12% between 1990 and 1998; Dane County’s grew 11%; and Kenosha’s grew 10%.
The rest of the report will attempt to inform the reader of the many changes that have been occurring in the metropolitan economies of the state in the 1990s. These results should inform and help individuals and communities decide what steps they might take to further spur their local economy to greater growth. To aid in this understanding, we have divided the decade of the 1990s into two equal parts, 1991 to 1995 and 1995 to 1999. This will allow us to see whether growth has been symmetrical or whether the state and its parts benefited more from the difficulties elsewhere in the nation in the early 1990s. The two periods of analysis should also give greater insights into what is responsible for the changes in the economy. We do not often display these two periods of analysis; instead we make references to differences between them in the text.