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Laura Dresser

Laura Dresser, associate director of the UW-Madison's Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS).

On this Labor Day weekend, a UW-Madison nonpartisan think tank says Wisconsin’s job growth still lags the nation’s, and nearly one of every five of the state’s African-American workers cannot find a job.

“We’ve all been hoping for an economic recovery strong enough to lift wages and income,” said Laura Dresser, associate director of the UW-Madison Center on Wisconsin Strategy. “Unfortunately, we’re just not seeing it in 2015.”

According to the COWS report, “The State of Working Wisconsin 2015,” Wisconsin has the highest unemployment rate for African-Americans in the U.S., at 19.9 percent.

That’s 4.6 times as high as the state’s white workers, who have a 4.3 percent unemployment rate, COWS said.

Another 5.4 percent of black workers in Wisconsin are working part-time but would like to have full-time jobs.

The divergence between black workers and white workers in the state has grown worse over the last three or four years, Dresser said. “The black rate has gone up while the white rate has continued to come down,” she said.

Two factors could be playing into the situation, Dresser speculated.

“Geographic segregation in the state means African-Americans are mostly in Milwaukee and Racine counties,” she said, “and Milwaukee’s employment numbers haven’t been as robust as some parts of the state.”

She said blacks in Wisconsin are isolated from economic opportunity. “You can see it in incarceration and family income and child poverty (rates). There’s very extreme disparity, and this is another place where that’s showing up,” she said.

Unemployment rates are also high among the young, and those without a high school diploma. Thirteen percent of workers aged 16 to 24 were unemployed in 2014 while 14.9 percent with less than a high school education could not find work, the report said.

In terms of Wisconsin’s job growth overall, Dresser said Wisconsin has finally returned to the number of jobs it had in December 2007. But she said that is “well short” of the state’s population increase during that time frame.

The COWS report said Wisconsin added 140,700 jobs between January 2011 and June 2015, a growth rate of 5.1 percent. Over the same period, the nationwide job market rose 8.4 percent. If Wisconsin had kept pace, it would have added 90,000 more jobs, COWS said.

In terms of employment sectors, Wisconsin has created more manufacturing jobs than the national trend but has fallen behind in the number of jobs created in trade, transportation and utilities; leisure and hospitality; and professional and business services, in particular, the report said.

“If we didn’t have manufacturing, we’d be further behind,” Dresser said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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