WisBusiness: Baby boomers key to Wisconsin rebound, but then what?

By Tracy Will

For WisBusiness.com

State economist Dennis Winters related his fears for Wisconsin’s economic future in a speech Thursday to the Governor’s Conference on Economic Development. In it Winters cast the silver-haired baby boomers as key to staffing skilled Wisconsin jobs once the rebound starts next year.

“Everybody knows that 60 is the new 40,” Winters said, “so we’ll all be working longer, we need the money, we need the health care, and we want to.”

Based on projections from the Obama administration that more jobs are on the way, Winters suggested that they couldn’t come at a better time.

“The stimulus is supposed to create 74,000 jobs in Wisconsin, which is a good thing because we’re down 68,000,” Winters quipped.

After that, Winters sees a need for improving education for blacks and hispanics, the fastest-growing part of the Badger State population.

“A lot of people don’t understand if the whole employment curve flattens out, that if we don’t raise productivity, and we don’t raise the earnings of people in this state, the whole economy is going to stagnate,” Winters warned.

“This is also a problem in the upper Midwest, Japan and Europe,” he said.

Winters presented a series of charts showing the trends that predict difficulty for Wisconsin companies that will continually need more highly skilled workers to feed an economy in transition.

“This is unprecedented and is not going away,” Winters said. “That brings us back to the whole issue of talent. We do not have the talent to up the wages.”

From 1960 to 2000, Winters said that the unending chain of young white people through the universities gave rise to U.S. economic power. As other racial and ethnic groups gain majority status in the United States, Winters warned that they need to be well-educated and involved in the economy. If that doesn’t happen, Wisconsin, along with the rest of the country, faces a shortage of the highly educated skilled workers that are vital to serving the high-tech economy.

“The high school dropouts are on the increase and the college educated folks are on the wane,” Winters warned, “We’re going the wrong way.”

For solutions Winters suggested that early childhood education – like 4-year-old kindergarten – offered the best value for the investment.

“The talent and the skills you need going into the workplace going into high school are the same as what you need going into college,” Winters said. “To earn jobs that earn more than $30,000, you need some form of post-secondary education.”

“We got to get up on the talent side, productivity, and for al the economic reasons we can’t start limiting any of this potential talent,” Winters concluded.