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Wisconsin workers earn a median hourly wage of $18.34, a UW-Madison report says, but the median wage for black workers is $16.10 and the median wage for Latino workers is $13.48.

Wisconsin’s economy has finally recovered from the Great Recession, a full 10 years after it hit, a UW-Madison report says.

But one of every five workers in Wisconsin is earning poverty-level wages, black women are three times more likely than white men to work at lower-paying jobs, and Latino employees earn 43 percent less than white employees, based on median pay, according to the analysis by COWS, formerly known as the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

The 69-page State of Working Wisconsin 2018, released Friday, says unemployment in the state is low and the 2016 median income for a family of four with two working adults topped $90,000, nearly $10,000 higher than it was in 2010.

“Income has recovered to levels comparable to the historic highs of the early 2000s,” COWS said.

But not everyone is benefiting from the overall gains, COWS said.

More than 675,000 Wisconsin workers earn less than $11.95 an hour, COWS said. About 11.6 percent of white men and 19.8 percent of white women make less than $11.95 an hour; 22.8 percent of black men and 35.6 percent of black women earn less than that.

That is a “challenge” for the state, said Laura Dresser, COWS associate director and co-author of the report. More education, especially a college degree, could help. “That would make a big difference for wages,” she said.

Raising the wage floor is another way to have an impact, she said. Twenty-nine states have set their minimum wage above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, the report said, but Wisconsin is not one of them.

Three industries account for the biggest chunk of sub-poverty-level Wisconsin jobs — food service, retail and long-term care, the report said.

Among the study’s other findings:

  • Wisconsin’s population grew by about 432,000 from 2000 to 2017, an 8 percent increase. Total U.S. population increased by 16 percent during that period.
  • The state’s population is becoming more diverse. While 93.6 percent of Wisconsin’s residents in 1980 were white, 82.4 percent were white in 2015. By 2050, that percentage is expected to drop to 69 percent.
  • Immigrants are a “vital” part of the state’s economy as the population ages, COWS said. Immigrants are 7.2 percent of Wisconsin’s business owners, and their companies generate nearly a quarter-billion dollars in annual revenues.
  • From January 2011 through March 2018, Wisconsin gained 233,300 jobs, a gain of 8.5 percent.
  • Job growth has centered in Wisconsin cities and bypassed rural areas. Urban counties have added 94,700 jobs since 2000 while rural counties lost 9,500 jobs.
  • According to the Economic Policy Institute’s family budget calculator, a family of two adults and two children in the Madison area will need income of $88,283 a year to pay their basic bills. That’s higher than any other part of the state except St. Croix County, along the Minnesota border near Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The report, released in time for Labor Day, also shows a big drop in union representation in Wisconsin, from nearly 60 percent of public-sector workers in the late 1990s to 18.9 percent in 2017. Overall, about 24 percent of the state’s workers were union members in the early 1980s; now, the total is 8.3 percent.

COWS said 2011’s Act 10, which sharply restricted the powers of public employee unions, and a so-called “right to work” law barring the mandatory payment of union dues are largely responsible for the decline.

Wisconsin workers have some reason to celebrate this Labor Day, said COWS director Joel Rogers, co-author of the report. But he said the state “could do much better for its working families. It will need to if we’re ever to reclaim the shared high quality of life together that was once Wisconsin’s hallmark.”


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