Despite global pressures in the last few years, Wisconsin’s economy remains strong — thanks in large part to the work ethic of its labor force.
That was the message from state officials at the 2023 Wisconsin Economic Summit Monday in Appleton, hosted by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. While officials said the state economy is healthy overall, it does face long-term threats that could hamper future growth.
John Koskinen, chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, said the strength of Wisconsin’s economy comes from its workforce. He said 85 percent of Wisconsin’s prime working age population — defined by economists as people between the ages of 25 to 54 — is engaged in the workforce.
And, Koskinen said, he believes Wisconsin’s working women give the state an edge. In 2022, Wisconsin women had a labor force participation rate of 59.3 percent, while women nationally had a 56.8 percent rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But even though Koskinen and other officials are optimistic about Wisconsin’s economy, they acknowledged there are issues that could hamper its ability to grow long-term.
He said more people have died in Wisconsin than were born over the last few years. In fact, between 2020 and 2022, over 2,000 more people died than were born in Wisconsin, according to a 2023 report from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.
Wisconsin also has an aging population, and is one of only 14 states with a median age over 40, the report said.
Those demographic challenges have caused headaches for employers, who are struggling to find enough qualified workers, as there are 2.4 open jobs for every one jobseeker, Pechacek said.
“We have more jobs than we have physical bodies to fill those jobs right now,” she said. “In Wisconsin, we’re not alone in this. This is a problem felt throughout the Midwest, throughout the entire nation, even a global issue.”
Another pain point for Wisconsin’s economy, Koskinen said, is child care availability. He said child care services have not recovered from pandemic losses, making it a continuous challenge.
“While I alluded to the gains that we had on the strength of Wisconsin women and the difference that that makes, surprisingly, in 2021 — compared to the pre-pandemic levels — married women’s labor force participation dropped, largely because more people had to be home to make sure they were taking care of the kids,” Koskinen said.