The old adage “it’s hard to get good help” is true in Wisconsin and it’s only going to get more difficult in the future, according to a new study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Census data suggests the number of working-age individuals living in Wisconsin has declined for several straight years, as has the state’s youth population, according to the report, “Wisconsin’s Workforce Challenge Intensify.” At the same time, the aging baby boomer generation is expanding the population of retirees, shifts that signal challenges ahead for the state’s workforce and economy.
After peaking at 3.6 working-age Wisconsinites in 2011, the state’s working age population has declined by 35,000 or about 1%, according to report. In each of the last four years, the working-age population has declined slightly, a string of losses that reverses a long-term growth trend and heightens concerns after the future workforce in Wisconsin.
Adding to the issue is the decrease in Wisconsin’s population of youth younger than 18, a key source of future workers. The youth population has declined by more than 45,000 since 2011, a 3.4% drop, and a trend that is likely to continue because the state’s birth rate is at its lowest point in at least a generation, the report states.
In Douglas County, the rate of decline in the population younger than 18 is about 6% since 2010, according to U.S. Census data.
While the decrease in the population has been going on the state’s population of people 65 and older has increased by 163,970, driven primarily by aging baby boomers rather than seniors moving into the state. In Douglas County, the number of seniors has grown by more than 15%, Census data shows.
“The working-age population in Douglas County has remained pretty much flat since 2010, while the youth population has shrunk and the senior population has grown, said Wisconsin Policy Forum researcher Joe Peterangelo.
The latest population and employment projections by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, which projects that the total number of jobs will increase by 210,178 by 2026, only adds to the concern as more jobs open up as baby boomers continued to retire, the Wisconsin Policy Forum report states.
The decline in the working-age population has affected most, but not all, counties across Wisconsin, according to the report. Kenosha, Brown and St. Croix counties have all seen about a 1% gain in working-age Wisconsinites, and Outgamie County gained about 2.9%. Dane County had the largest working-age gain of 4.7%.
Nearly half, of all U.S. states and 80% of counties in the nation are facing a loss of working-age adults, according to national research by the Economic Innovation Group.
According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, a number of strategies could be used to increase workforce participation within the state’s existing population and visa programs to bring skilled labor to areas of the country with declining populations.
While solutions to the challenges brought on by Wisconsin’s shrinking workforce could come in a range of forms, it is clear that the situation demands increased attention from state policymakers, the report states.