Sunday, April 1, 2012

Unemployment- it's also about how many look for work

Hidden inside of last week's state personal income report which showed that Wisconsin was dead last in income growth for the 4th Quarter of 2011 was the per-capita income stats on Page 4. As part of the per-capita stats, it shows the estimated change in population for all the states in 2011 vs. the 2010 Census. Not surprisingly, all Midwestern states didn't grow as fast as the 0.73% the country grew by last year, though Minnesota came closest.

Growth in population, 2011
Minn +0.64%
Ind. +0.40%
Iowa +0.39%
Wis. +0.35%
Ill. +0.21%
Ohio +0.06%
Mich -0.00% (down 1,000 out of 9.9 million)

Wisconsin's population growth is of the slow-but-steady nature that we've had for the better part of the last 2-3 decades. But what's interesting about the change in population is that it hasn't translated into an increased workforce for the state, unlike our neighbors. In fact, we have fewer people in the work force (defined as working or unemployed and looking for work) than we had when Scott Walker took office in January 2011, and we'll use Friday's state unemployment report as a proxy for 2011's population.

Change in work force, Jan 2011-Feb 2012
Ill. +0.53%
Ind. +0.14%
Minn +0.14%
Iowa -0.25%
Wis. -0.34%
Ohio -0.51%
Mich -0.68%

Interesting difference, eh? Especially when you see that "hopeless" Illinois actually had more people added to their work force than their population, while all other states went the other way, with work force growth slower than the population or actually dropping in 4 states, including Wisconsin.

This reduced amount of the population being in the work force isn't necessarily new in Wisconsin, as the DWD and other state departments have discussed concerns about a reduced labor participation rate, and it's worth mentioning that Wisconsin's labor force only grew 2.2% from 2000 to 2010 while our population grew by 6.0%. But it does make it disingenuous when the Walker Administration tries to take credit for a "low 6.9% unemployment rate" when the dropping amount of people in the work force is a big part of this.

To illustrate, let me give you what the unemployment rates would be if the amount of "employed" Wisconsinites was the same in the Unemployment Rate survey, but the work force increased like some of our neighbors, or even our own population.

Current unemployment rate under Wisconsin labor force scenarios
Current Feb 2012 Wis. UE rate: 6.9%
With same labor force as 2011: 7.2%
With LF growth of Indiana, Minn: 7.3%
With LF growth = Wis pop growth: 7.5%
With LF growth of Illinois: 7.7%

You can see where a few extra people looking for work might make a big difference in this stat. In fact, if Walker's policies had encouraged the same amount of people to enter the work force as Illinois (instead of driving them into early retirement) unemployment would not have dropped at all in Wisconsin under Scotty.

You can see where this is now going to crunch Walker in the next few months. If you believe Walker's rhetoric, and that things are "turning around", then you'd expect a lot of people to jump back into the work force and keep the numbers about the same, if not higher. And if there is no turnaround (and there really isn't, in my opinion), then the participation rates and job growth will stay low, and people are going to have ask why.

Just keep these numbers in mind as we look at Walker's record in the next few months, because in addition to the "worst in the nation" record for job growth, Walker has also caused many others to not even consider looking for work in Wisconsin, which also has set back the state in the 15 months of his reign of error. It's another barrier that we'll have to overcome when we end this disaster and get this state back on track this summer.

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