Wisconsin Civilian Labor Force Growth during the “Open for Business” Era

Remember February 2011, when Governor Walker declared this?


Source: Capital Times

So, since Walker failed to hit his 250K new private sector jobs by January 2011 (it finally did so in December 2018), and FoxConn has so far been an enigma, we can look at how Wisconsin did in boosting the labor force — presumably pretty simple given the mobility of labor across borders.

Well, not so good.

Figure 1: Log civilian labor force for Minnesota (blue), for Wisconsin (brown), and US (black). Non-Walker period shaded gray.Source: BLS via FRED, and author’s calculations. 

These labor force trends are important to remember when people hype the decline in the Wisconsin unemployment rate, and argue that it only stopped because Wisconsin unemployment pool had shrunk to such low levels. The Wisconsin rate matched the Minnesota rate at the same time as the Minnesota labor force growth rate pulls away from Wisconsin.

Figure 2: Unemployment rate for Minnesota (blue), for Wisconsin (brown), and US (black). Non-Walker period shaded gray.Source: BLS via FRED. 

In other words, if Wisconsin had really enhanced its attractiveness to labor and firms, one would’ve expected faster growth in the labor force, and ambiguous effect on unemployment.

(By the way, using historical correlations, Wisconsin underperformed in terms of nonfarm payroll employment growth, as shown in this post.)

8 thoughts on “Wisconsin Civilian Labor Force Growth during the “Open for Business” Era

    1. Barkley Rosser

      Monroe a good place to buy cheese from, Moses. Many people there descended from Swiss settlers.

      1. Moses Herzog

        I get a Dutch style made one, I can get this roughly $4 even where I live, the U shaped package. I can actually get a pre-sliced one for about $2.50 the same amount of ounces without the spicy (you can hardly taste the spicy anyway, but I still get it in the block a lot because it seems more “hygienic” than the spiced).

        It’s not connoisseurs’ quality I guess, but it’s made in the Midwest USA and is decent enough for my tastes. I’ve actually never been much of a cheese guy, but I get it with off-brand saltines and it helps me get nervous energy out with my hands when I’m watching movies. I honestly do like to think I’m helping Tony Evers out when I buy it, but that’s obviously the more silly part of my mind.

  1. Jake formerly of the LP

    Thank you, Prof Chinn. I’ve also noticed this pattern, and it shows fewer people “employed” in Wisconsin now than there was at the start of 2018.


    The household survey is more likely to show the effects of all the dairy farm closures than non-farm jobs numbers (even though those also suck – 46th in the QCEW from March 2018 – March 2019). So good luck to Trump and other GOPs trying to sell their economy in a stagnating state they can’t afford to lose.

    1. Jake formerly of the LP

      Actually, if you look at the QCEW numbers, it shows Wis job growth declining in Walker’s first 2 years (2011 and 2012). Then it increases from 2013-15, but then declines under 1% in 2016 (likely a reason the state voted for Trump).

      There was a slight bump up in 2017 (still below 2011-2015 levels), and 2018 was the state’s worst job growth of the decade.


  2. pgl

    There seems to be 3 distinct periods for Wisconsin. In the first 4 years, employment was flat. But in 2015 and 2016, Wisconsin started actually growing. Then Trump took over and employment in Wisconsin started falling. So what happened in the last couple of years under Trump-Walker?

  3. Moses Herzog

    What Tony Evers and his economic advisers should remember here, is even in a state with above average literacy and above average public education (relative to other U.S. states) economic lag does not mean jacksh*t to most people, and whatever is going on while he is in the state governor’s mansion is what Evers (not Walker) will be blamed for. This is the hard reality of the “cognition level” of your average voter—and no graph or economic theory is going to change that. So Evers better have those economic rail tracks singing some noise in the last year of his first term, or he can buy 6-8 bottles of beer for himself and get out the bugle and blow Taps for his governorship.

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