Wisconsin ‘Prime Working Age’ Labor Force Participation among Best in the Nation

The rate at which Wisconsin’s “prime working age” adults are either working or looking for work is among the best in the country, according to a recent report from the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Economists describe prime working age as individuals between 25 and 54 years old because that demographic typically has the highest labor force participation rates. Those rates measure the share of the population that’s working or seeking jobs.

In 2021, Wisconsin had the fifth-highest labor force participation rate in the country for prime working age women and the ninth highest for prime working age men, the UW-Extension report said.

“It speaks a lot to our work ethic,” said Matt Kures, the report’s author and a community economic development specialist for UW-Extension. “Traditionally, we have had high participation rates and I think that’s just kind of ingrained in us.”

He said overall annualized labor force participation data for 2022 is still preliminary. But the share of the state’s population that’s considered prime working age has been declining since around 2000 as both the 55- to 64-year-old and 65-plus demographics have been increasing, according to research from Kures.

For example, people 55 and older made up 21.6 percent of the state’s population in 2000. By 2021, they made up 32 percent. During the same period, prime working age Wisconsinites went from representing 43.1 percent of the population to 37.1 percent, while the state’s overall labor force participation rate has been trending downward.

“One of the biggest factors pushing our overall participation rate down is just our aging demographics,” Kures said. “That explains a very large share of the overall decline in our participation rates.”