Monday, June 10, 2024

Updated "gold standard" numbers show Wis with more jobs vs pre-COVID. But not true everywhere

Late last week, we got the full data set of the "gold standard" of job measurements, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW). This included all counties in the US, and it went up through December 2023, which makes for a good place to look and see where things stood.

This is especially true since this report marked 4 years from the end of 2019, which was 3 months before businesses started shutting down as the COVID pandemic broke out full-force. And it makes a good checkpoint to see how well the country and states had recovered from the economic damage of the pandemic, if they had.

Nationwide, the QCEW says that the US had 3.23% more jobs at the end of 2023 than they did 4 years prior to that. In Wisconsin, we've grown slower in that time period, as we have for most of the last 20-30 years in both population and job growth, with a 1.19% gain in jobs under the QCEW. But some areas did a lot better than others within our state, particularly on a percentage basis.

The higher-gaining counties for jobs are mostly rural, with SW Wisconsin's Lafayette County leading the way. The exception of exurban counties such as St Croix and Calumet, and the continued growth in Kenosha County.

The counties with the highest percentage of jobs lost between the end of 2019 and 2023 have a lot more in common - a series of rural counties in Western and Central Wisconsin.

On a numbers basis, Dane County continues its trend of leading the way in Wisconsin. The QCEW says the county that includes Madison gained 7,346 jobs in that four-year period, a number that is all the more remarkable because Dane County lost nearly 20,000 in the first year of that time period, due to strong COVID restrictions and a lack of students returning to UW in the Fall of 2020.

Kenosha also has significantly more jobs than at the end of 2023, and 6 other Wisconsin counties had added more than 1,000 jobs.

On the job loss side, Milwaukee County was still at a deficit of nearly 20,000 jobs compared to where they were at the end of 2019, and some of that likely led to losses in Ozaukee County. But it's also worth noting that 3 of the 4 counties in the Fox Valley were down more than 1,500 jobs at the end of last year, and that Trempealeau's large percentage losses put it in the top 10 for overall jobs lost.

It illustrates how getting jobs and people back to Milwaukee is something that really matters when it comes to the overall economic performance of the state It'll be worth watching to see how the new sales taxes put in place for 2024 may help the chances of investments, in contrast to decades of defunding and handcuffing the state's largest economic engine.

These figures also illustrate how different the post-COVID recovery has (or has not) been for various areas of Wisconsin. Here in Madison, things seem better than ever, and jobs and new construction keep happening. But that might not be true in other parts of the state, and it makes it hard to have one unifying theme or message on the economy for all of the state's residents, because some have fallen behind in the 2020s, while others have been having booming growth.

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