New workforce report suggests relying more on immigrant workers

A new report from the Center on Wisconsin Strategy suggests relying more on immigrant workers to bridge the growing workforce divide between urban and rural parts of the state.

Wisconsin’s job growth over the past seven years has been focused in urban areas, the report shows, while rural communities are facing mounting workforce challenges. Since 2000, the state’s urban counties have added 94,700 jobs, while rural counties lost 9,500.

The report, released a day before Labor Day, maps a swelling urban workforce that’s becoming more educated and diverse. In contrast, rural areas are losing young workers and becoming less diverse in the process.

“As the population ages and baby boomers move into retirement, the state will be challenged to increase the productivity and size of the workforce,” report authors say. “Immigrants to the state are an essential answer to these coming economic issues.”  

Statewide, immigrants make up 5 percent of the population, 7.2 percent of business owners, 6.2 percent of working-age population, and about 6 percent of the total labor force, the report shows.

And immigrant entrepreneurs in the state currently generate almost $250 million in annual business revenue.

The increasing diversity in the state is largely due to more Hispanic and Asian residents, many of which are immigrants, the report shows.

Still, minorities continue to be paid less in Wisconsin. The median Hispanic worker earns $13.48 per hour, or 43 percent lower than the white median. And the median black worker earns $16.10 per hour, which is 19 percent less than the median for white workers.

“The very disparate levels of unemployment and the increased struggle to secure enough hours of work underscore the unique economic barriers faced by historically disadvantaged workers,” report authors say.

Women are only paid about 84 cents for every dollar that men earn in Wisconsin. But using data from the past 35 years, report authors found women’s wages have risen overall while wages for men have fallen slightly.

The median wage for Wisconsin men has gone from $21.00 per hour in 1979 to $20.03 per hour in 2017. In that same period, women’s median hourly wage grew nearly 29 percent from $13.13, to $16.92.

That rise in women’s wages was largely achieved in the 1980s, and men and women’s wages grew at nearly the same rate between 1993 and 2001, the report shows. In the past 17 years or so, women’s wages have grown slightly faster than men’s.

Report authors note the men’s advantage comes both from men working in higher-wage industries, and the higher wages they are paid within the industries.

For example, 30.5 percent of all Wisconsin men working in manufacturing jobs, alongside 13.2 percent of women in the state. Since manufacturing jobs pay relatively higher than most jobs, report authors say that alone would contribute to lower wages for women.

“But even within manufacturing, the median wage for women is nearly 16 percent lower than that for men,” they said.

Looking at the statewide jobs picture, Wisconsin’s job growth has been slower than the national rate, the report shows. Between January 2011 and March 2018, the state added 233,000 jobs. That’s short of the 364,000 jobs that would have been added if Wisconsin’s job growth matched the national rate.

See the full report here: