MON AM News: Economists watching employment figures in months to come; State offering up to $3M in grants for training programs

— In the coming months, economists will be closely watching employment figures as a possible indicator of whether the economy is in a recession. 

That’s according to Dave Clark, executive associate dean and professor of economics at Marquette University. 

In a recent interview, he noted the past two quarters of declining real GDP would typically suggest the country is moving into a recession. But the National Bureau of Economic Research, which officially decides whether or not a recession is occurring, is “pretty careful” about making that call, Clark said. 

He noted the organization incorporates changes in gross domestic product, as well as industrial production and other indicators such as the unemployment rate, in its calculation. Plus, the nonpartisan bureau avoids making any determinations during political cycles that could influence elections. 

“We will be watching very closely whether or not we start seeing some signs that the labor market is weakening,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got unemployment rates in the state that are 3.1 percent … Over the course of the last year there was employment growth. There was a little decline in the labor force. But overall we still have a very tight labor market.” 

Meanwhile, he said experts will also be keeping an eye on efforts by the Federal Reserve to reduce inflation. The latest federal data showed consumer prices increased 8.2 percent in the 12-month period ending in September, which is below the recent peak of 9 percent in June but still historically high. 

“One of the reasons it came down from its peak is we were starting to see some improvements in oil prices. And now we’ve seen a little bit of a reversal on that,” he said. “The Fed has made it very clear that their primary focus is on inflation now. They do not want inflationary expectations to increase significantly.” 

He added housing economists don’t want that either, as higher levels of inflation influence mortgage rates. The average 30-year fixed mortgage rate hit 5.22 percent in August, marking an 83.8 percent increase from the previous August’s rate of 2.84 percent, according to a recent Wisconsin Realtors Association report. 

“If you want to get back to relatively low mortgage rates — mortgage rates that are in the 3-4 percent range — you’ve got to have inflation back in the 2-3 percent range,” he said. “And we’re a ways away from that right now.” 

Listen to a recent podcast with Clark: 

— The state will be providing up to $3 million to employers for worker training programs in the latest round of Wisconsin Fast Forward Grants. 

According to a release from the state Department of Workforce Development, these grants can range from $5,000 to $400,000 per recipient. 

“The Fast Forward program helps Wisconsin employers provide customized training to fill their open positions,” DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek said in the release. “At the same time, it places workers, including trainees, in positions that offer long-term professional growth and economic opportunity.”

Applicants can include public agencies, private organizations across all industries, coalitions led by either of these entities and tribal groups. The deadline to apply is 3 p.m. Nov. 16. 

See more details: 

— A nonprofit health care organization called Agrace has announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2025. 

According to a release from the Madison-based group, Agrace aims to lower its greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy consumption at its facilities, replacing outdated equipment with more energy efficient installations, buying locally generated renewable energy and other efforts. 

The nonprofit also says it will begin installing a solar array on the roof of its Janesville facility this year, and is evaluating doing the same for its Madison campus in 2023. 

Agrace provides hospice care, adult day services, as well as other personal and supportive care for seniors and other patients. 

“Changes in our climate are tied to increasing risks to human health, including poor air quality, the spread of certain diseases, reduced food and water quality, and extreme weather conditions,” company President and CEO Lynn Sexten said in the release. “Some of these changes, like extreme heat, can directly affect Agrace’s patient and clients.” 

See the release: 

— The United Health Foundation ranks Wisconsin 22nd among U.S. states for the health of women and children. 

The America’s Health Rankings report ranks states for social and economic factors impacting health, the physical environment, clinical care, behaviors and health outcomes. 

Some of Wisconsin’s strengths include: low prevalence of high blood pressure among women, for which the state is ranked third among U.S. states; fruit and vegetable consumption by women, with a ranking of fourth in the country; and frequency of dental visits by women, with a fifth place ranking. 

Wisconsin is also ranked seventh in the nation for young infants being exclusively breastfed for their first six months of life. 

But the report also highlights some of the state’s most pressing health challenges, many of which relate to racial disparities. 

Wisconsin is ranked dead last among U.S. states for both excessive alcohol consumption among women and racial disparities in low birth weights, 47th for residential segregation of Black and white residents, 46th for racial disparities in high school graduation rates and 44th for racial disparities among children in poverty. 

Along with the rankings on these and other factors, the report also shows anxiety among children and drug deaths among women have both been increasing between recent study periods. 

For children aged 3-17, anxiety rates increased from 7.5 percent to 11.8 percent between 2017-2018 and 2020-2021, according to the report. 

And for women aged 20-44, the rate of drug deaths per 100,000 people rose from 19.2 to 24.9 between 2014-2016 and 2018-2020. 

See more of Wisconsin’s rankings here: 

— Marshfield Clinic Health System and another Midwest health system called Essentia Health have announced discussions on a potential merger. 

According to a release, the two organizations have signed a memorandum of understanding as they consider the possibility of forming an integrated health system. If the two merge, they would form a health system with 3,500 providers serving more than two million at 25 hospitals and dozens of other sites. 

The health systems say they would be able to boost access to primary and specialty care for patients and improve health outcomes for these populations if they combine. The release describes the MOU as “the first step” toward a potential merger as discussions are ongoing. 

MCHS currently serves Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, while Duluth-based Essentia Health has patients across Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota. 

See the release: 

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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

Agrace: Sets goal to become carbon neutral by 2025

AprilAire: Named a 2022 Dane County Climate Champion