Unemployment hits some population groups harder

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Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at 7 percent, and the national unemployment rate is at 8.3 percent, but the unemployment numbers are even higher for people in some segments of the population, including young adults, veterans and minorities.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2011 shows only about 41.7 percent of black males in Milwaukee were employed last year.

The national unemployment rate among young adults ages 18 to 29 is about 12.7 percent, according to nonprofit organization Generation Opportunity.

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Nationwide, post-Sept. 11 veteran unemployment was at 12.1 percent last year.

And taking into consideration workers who have become discouraged and stopped looking for work, the unemployment problem is even more severe, said Laura Dresser, associate director of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

There are about 150,000 fewer jobs in Wisconsin than there were in December 2007, and there are more working age people in the state than in 2007. At the same time, the unemployment rate in the state has fallen over the last four years.

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“We know that means that people have left the labor market,” Dresser said. “You can’t get these numbers to add up without having people get discouraged out of looking for work.”

The state Department of Workforce Development has created programs to address overall unemployment rates rather than unemployment problems for specific groups, said Secretary Reggie Newson.

“The rising tide lifts all boats,” Newson said. “In the past, I believe that many workforce training programs served a population that had barriers to employment. We have to take all individuals and work to get those individuals retrained and reskilled.”

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For example, Transform Milwaukee, a program announced by Gov. Scott Walker in April, will inject $100 million from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) into the Milwaukee economy in an attempt to spur job creation, restore industrial output, address foreclosed city properties and create a sustainable solution for rainwater runoff.

Walker also has a Task Force on Minority Unemployment and the City of Milwaukee has an African-American Male Unemployment Task Force.

Meanwhile, the DWD’s efforts to address unemployment are focused on training for skills that span whole industry clusters, like manufacturing, transportation, water, health care, finance and food/agriculture, Newson said.

“Manufacturing is going to be a primary focus,” he said. “Manufacturing jobs could be the impetus to help get people employed in Milwaukee.”

In addition, helping people get or regain driver licenses is an important step to helping them obtain and travel to jobs, Newsom said.

Minority workers

Minority groups, especially African-American males, are unemployed at a significantly higher rate than the overall population.

Marc Levine, senior fellow and founding director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development, studies the labor market in Milwaukee, particularly among black males. Mass unemployment has been a problem for black males since the 1970s, and the Great Recession only intensified the problem, he said.

“It’s a long-term decline, but in the aftermath of the recession, we hit all time lows,” Levine said. “My expectation, and certainly my hope, is that that’s the bottom.”

In his latest report, which analyzes the racially specific regional data recently released for 2010, Levine shows that there are more black males in the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis metro area that were not working than those who were— the employment rate is only 44.7 percent, down from 52.9 percent in 2008. This is the lowest employment rate that has ever been reported for Milwaukee’s black males, measured as an employment-population ratio, he said.

There are a range of causes for the disparity between the employment rate for black men and the overall population, Levine said.

Deindustrialization began in the 1970s, when up to three-quarters of manufacturing jobs were lost in some areas of Milwaukee over time. That was around the same time Milwaukee’s black male unemployment rate began rising, he said.

“The reason this has had a disproportionate effect on African-American male joblessness in Milwaukee is because, to a greater extent than in other major metro areas, black males were employed in manufacturing,” Levine said.

In addition, crime and the war on drugs have contributed to a greater number of black men being incarcerated and leaving the job market. There are now more black men in prisons than in factories, Levine said.

“In some ways, we’ve kind of exchanged an industrial economy for a prison economy for a certain segment of our population,” he said.

Milwaukee is also one of the most segregated cities in the nation and has a relatively low level of black suburbanization, Levine said. Most of the jobs that are currently being created are in the suburbs. As a result, it can be difficult for African-Americans to access those new jobs.

Preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2011 show the metro area employment rate was improved to 61 percent and the black male employment rate was about the same, at 44.9 percent.

Young Workers

Newson is working with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) to rekindle students’ interest in the booming manufacturing sector, which has jobs available for skilled workers.

“We’re going to work really hard to get young people exposed to these careers in manufacturing,” he said.

Young adults have a much higher unemployment rate than the general population, since they have more barriers to employment than most, Dresser said.

“If employers have more choices when they’re filling jobs, they will often choose people with more experience or people who are otherwise higher in the queue,” she said.

Young adults don’t often have much experience, particularly in full-time, long-term jobs.

The national unemployment rate among young adults ages 18 to 29 is about 12.7 percent, according to Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit focused on drawing attention to joblessness among the Millennial generation.

In addition, about 1.7 million young adults are no longer counted in the official unemployment number by the U.S. Department of Labor, said Paul Conway, president of the organization.

For younger workers, competition with older, more experienced, workers has intensified, since more workers are staying in the workforce later into life, he said.

“We don’t think people have given up looking for work, we actually think people are frustrated because they can’t find it,” Conway said. “In an uncertain economy, businesses will not take a risk in creating entry level jobs.”

Young workers’ inability to gain good workplace experience could have long-lasting implications, he said.

“You’re looking at a generational issue and it’s not going away anytime soon. That’s why we think a change has to come at the policy level,” Conway said.


Military veterans are another group that has a higher unemployment rate than the overall population.

The most recent data available for Wisconsin was for the year 2010, when the unemployment rate for veterans who served since 2001 was 13.3 percent, according to the state Department of Veterans Affairs. Nationwide, post-Sept. 11 veteran unemployment was at 12.1 percent last year.

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs and the Milwaukee Center for Veterans Issues have noticed the change locally.

More than 2,000 veterans attended the first 12 career fairs hosted by the state Department of Veterans Affairs this year, said Secretary John Scocos. About 27 percent of those attendees were offered an interview or a job on the spot.

Since he became secretary of the department in August 2011, the DVA has sent out more than 7,000 emails and letters to veterans in an effort to connect them with jobs, Scocos said.

The Wisconsin GI Bill also may have contributed to a lower veteran unemployment rate, since it offered tax credits to employers and training and education opportunities to veterans.

“We’ve seen a change in the employment rate of our veterans and it’s been by working hard,” Scocos said. “Part of our phased plan to attack this was, ‘We’ve got to reach out (and) reconnect these veterans, whether it’s benefits, services, and then an employer.'”

The Milwaukee Center for Veterans Issues provides a range of services to veterans, including job search assistance. Lynda Horn, veterans employment program coordinator at the center, has noticed a few more veterans finding jobs.

“If we haven’t had closings for awhile on a larger scale, then we don’t see quite as many veterans who are unemployed,” she said. “The other thing we have probably noticed is as veterans are returning, many of them are choosing to use their benefits to go back to school.”

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