By combining information on jobs, workforce, unemployment, population, and home values, WISTAX identified 28 counties whose post-recession recovery was above the state average and 44 counties where it was below average. Three counties—Calumet, Dane, and St. Croix—far outpaced all others, while Adams, Buffalo, Forest, and Iron trailed most significantly.Huh, so maybe investing in public infrastructure and higher ed has a nice economic payoff. Who knew? (certainly not the GOPs at the Capitol).
Although many factors affect economic growth, WISTAX identified three that deserve attention: access to major highways, high-speed Internet, and university campuses. Twelve of the 14 fastest-growing counties contained an interstate or other four-lane highway; the two remaining had a major highway within miles of their borders. This is not surprising: A 2014 WISTAX study showed Wisconsin’s industry mix is more transportation-dependent than any other state, except Indiana.
On the down side, Taxpayers Alliance President Todd Berry says that when it comes to the economy over the last 7 years, the bottom 30% of Wisconsin counties are overwhelmingly in central and northern Wisconsin, and are almost all rural.
“If one word were to characterize these 22 lagging counties,” WISTAX’s Berry said, “it might be isolation.” Nearly all these counties lack access to major highways and high-speed Internet, and are without major cities. Excluding Milwaukee, Manitowoc, and Wood counties, the largest city in these remaining 19 counties is Marinette, with fewer than 11,000 residents. All other cities and villages have fewer than 8,200 residents, and just five had more than 5,000.Huh, sounds like we need to do something to improve infrastructure and encourage younger people to locate in those rural places. Maybe Scott Walker shouldn’t have tried to spite the Black Guy in the White House by turning down $23 millon for rural internet 6 years ago? And maybe we shouldn’t have continued to defund public education in the state, a trend that continued in the 2017-19 budget with the GOP Legislature’s removal of sparsity aids and Scott Walker’s veto of an increase for low-revenue districts that are overwhelmingly in smaller communities and suburbs.
In addition to looking back at county economic performance during the 2009-16 period, WISTAX also looked ahead to future workforce trends. “It is the availability of adequate labor going forward that will most impact future economic progress,” Berry pointed out.
WISTAX calculated a “replacement rate” for each county that measures its capacity to replace soon-to-retire 55-to-64 year olds with young people currently 15 to 24. A close look at these replacement rates shows the economic divergence among counties that prevailed during 2009-16 will likely continue for the next decade.
Among the 22 counties that most struggled since 2009, the median (half lower, half higher) replacement rate was 54%. In other words, these counties have about half the number of young people needed to maintain their workforces. By contrast, in the 12 counties with the strongest economies during 2009-16, the median replacement rate was 96%. That is, they have nearly enough young people to replace their retirees.
Now I don’t count on the right-leaning Taxpayers Alliance to make that connection. But it exists, and it’s well past time people in those largely rural communities make Scott Walker and their (mostly) GOP legislators pay a price for the regressive policies that have left their communities in the dust.