An aging workforce and a growing cadre of retired workers seem destined to provide difficult economic challenges for Wisconsin in the future.
That’s the conclusion of a report titled “The Impending Storm” prepared by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. The report notes that school enrollments have been generally flat since the late 1990s, saying that “suggests that the size of our labor force is in the early stages of stagnation.”
In the short term, the report notes, there can be some job growth because unemployment is still low. But an expected “freeze” in the working-age population over the next 30 years will make long-term job growth difficult.
Employers may end up relying more on Wisconsin workers over age 65 or people who might move in from other states. The report notes that wages in Wisconsin are “now more than 10 percent less than national averages.”
The WTA report stated, “No state can afford inadequately prepared high school dropouts when it needs every possible worker.”
By the year 2040, retirees will compose nearly 25 percent of Wisconsin’s population.
There also are shifts within Wisconsin, with a declining population in many rural parts of the state. “The rapidly aging north, with little or no natural increase in population, faces dwindling numbers of residents,” the report said.
Ten years ago the WTA issued warnings about shifting population patterns in the state. Much of what was predicted in 2004 has become reality, the latest report said.
“The sobering question is: Are Wisconsin leaders any better prepared now to meet the challenges of population change than they were then?”
Matt Pommer is a veteran correspondent covering the Capitol in Madison. His columns are published with permission from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.