Thursday, November 23, 2017

If Wisconsin's job growth is jumping, why are most metros losing jobs?

Right before the Thanksgiving holiday hit, we got a look at the Wisconsin local job and unemployment figures for October. I expected these numbers to be good throughout the state, given that we found out last week that Wisconsin allegedly gained 10,500 jobs in October.

But instead, as I dug into the numbers I found out that most metropolitan areas lost jobs last month. An obvious exception was Madison, which continues to set the pace for economic growth in Wisconsin, while the state's largest metro area continues to lag behind.

Seasonally adjusted job change Oct 2017
Milwaukee-WOW -2,400
Appleton -800
Eau Claire -600
Fond du Lac -600
Oshkosh-Neenah -500
Green Bay -400
Racine -300
Janesville -200
Wausau -200
Sheboygan -100
La Crosse +500
Madison +1,100

Rest of the state +15,000

Really? The metro areas lost a total of 4,500 jobs last month, but there were 15,000 new jobs in October for small-city and rural Wisconsin, (who account for barely more than ¼ of the state’s total jobs)? That doesn’t add up either way.

It’s also noteworthy that Madison has tripled up Milwaukee and pretty much any other metro area in the state over the last year. This time we'll go top to bottom, as most of the metro areas have some (usually small) amount of job growth.

Seasonally adjusted job change Oct 2016 - Oct 2017
Madison +6,800
Appleton +2,300
Janesville +2,200
Milwaukee-WOW +2,000
La Crosse +1,600
Racine +700
Wausau +400
Oshkosh-Neenah +300
Fond du Lac -300
Green Bay -600
Sheboygan -700
Eau Claire -1,400

Rest of state +29,100

Again, over 2/3 of the job growth in the last 12 months has been outside of Wisconsin metro areas, in a time when rural Wisconsin is stagnant or declining in population? Color me skeptical. It makes me very intrigued to see what happens when we see the "Gold Standard" Quarterly Census on Wages and Employment in a couple of weeks, as well as the benchmark revisions of jobs in March, because it seems like those figures might tell a very different story than Walker's Department of Workforce Development is giving these days.

And if any of the 5 regular readers are heading out to the small-town Wisconsin this weekend or any time soon, tell me if this "rural boom" is a statistical fluke (or worse), or if it's legit.


  1. A guess I had on rural area job gains could be due to the change for visa workers at state resorts because in the past, those workers were brought in temporarily for the season where now most of them were coming from inside the state although October is normally hiring for winter season which I would assume would be lower than summer hiring. Some of the gains like Fleet Farm moving their distribution center would show an increase in construction jobs temporarily but most of the jobs are moving from one place to another. Pulling up the job numbers for the non metro border counties near the twin cities would probably give you an indication of what's going on. I'd also check Douglas county/superior area as the county is large. My guess is many of the gains may be construction/housing/commercial related which are more temporary. Kwik Trip is expanding facilities in La Crosse and adding 300 positions there plus creating around 250 construction jobs. The PDQ merger appears to have generated additional jobs as the new locations would have more employees than the previous stations(layoff notices were required due to the employment change but they were hoping as many existing PDQ employees would be willing to stay as possible). Also over the last few years, companies that need additional land have been forced to cross from MN to WI for more land/cost cutting options so most of those would be located in the counties of Douglas, Polk, St. Croix, Dunn, Pierce and Pepin. Another thing to check into would be business levels at businesses that are more attractive to conservative voters to see what types of volume they have been seeing at golf courses, shooting ranges, outdoor sports wear, sports equipment and other businesses that conservative shoppers are more likely to support. One theory I have is that Wisconsin has been attracting more conservative residents and/or shoppers/vacationers from surrounding states, so we might be seeing more activity in rural areas because of attracting those types of shoppers/residents that we would typically overlook. If conservative business owners decide to move to Wisconsin, they are likely to move their business with them, but many would be located in border counties near the state they came from, so my guess is that the border counties touching the four land connected states might be able to tell us the story of these job gains. If the stats in most of those counties is also down or flat and it's not seasonal/tourism related in areas like the Dells, up north, then it might just be temporary job changes. Technically there aren't even that many unemployed people left unless rural unemployed people are being pulled to the cities or jobs going to them to fill jobs others have moved away from. The most recent census numbers for Minnesota showed just a slight surplus of WI residents moving to MN vs going the other way but IL was sending 2.7 residents to MN for every 1 MN resident moving to IL, so there could be an even larger IL influx of residents moving into WI so that might be worth looking into also.

    1. All good theories, if the "rural jobs" number is legit.

      Next QCEW comes out in 2 weeks, and that gets the numbers down to the county level. Sure, that is only through June, but it'll still help.

      In looking at the unemployment rates, it looks like the highest rates are in Northern and Central Wisconsin, but that could also be a seasonal thing with Summer jobs going away by October.

  2. I mean, we should not being pitting rural and city employment. Why not have an economy that benefits us all?

    When I look at current politics, it is clear that it's not helping people in Alma Center, Rice Lake, or Milwaukee in it's most impoveraged areas.

    Jake H clearly has a view; maybe he could learn to write using paragraphs and distinct ideas. I also live near the country, don't have anything against them, but it would sure help their cause to not make their plight against all those city folks that might not be economic success stories.

    1. I agree that we should try to have prosperity and high-quality services no matter what community you live in. I was just noticing an odd disparity in the numbers- so odd that I doubt that they will hold up in future reports