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Wis. job growth lags behind other states (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin has lagged the nation in job growth since the mid-1990s because of its aging population and lack of business startups, according to a new report by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Wisconsin consistently beat national job-growth rates throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, but since 1996 the state has only outperformed the nation in job creation just 27 percent of the time, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday, citing the alliance’s report.

Between June 2010 and June 2012, while the nation experienced 2.8 percent job growth, Wisconsin posted a 2.3 percent expansion. The report attributed the lag to the state’s graying population and lack of entrepreneurial growth.

The report noted that from 2002 to 2011 the working-age population in Wisconsin grew at 5.9 percent, compared to a national average of 9.3 percent. That lack of workers between the ages of 18 and 64 makes it harder to fill open positions.

Todd Berry, the president of the Taxpayers Alliance, said Wisconsin’s elected leaders trade blame for the poor figures but that even the simplest political debates overlook crucial issues such as demographics, instead focusing more on tax incentives to lure companies from other states.

The state needs to figure out how to retain its young people, educate workers through apprenticeships and other measures, keep tuitions competitive and strengthen Internet infrastructure across Wisconsin, Berry said.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance describes itself as an independent nonprofit research organization that regularly produces reports analyzing the state’s tax policies.

David Ward, who runs NorthStar Economics in Madison, said the state workforce is near its peak and will likely hold steady or shrink in the coming years. He said immigration should be considered an opportunity to strengthen the workforce, not a threat.

Entrepreneurship can also lead to job growth. The Taxpayers Alliance calculated Wisconsin business startups as a share of all private firms in the state and found the state averaged a rate of 2.2 percent in 2011. That was well below the national average of 2.9 percent and ranked Wisconsin second-worst in the country, ahead of Iowa.

Despite the negative statistics, the report identified some silver linings: Wisconsin’s new businesses are more likely to stay in business. Of the companies started in the state in 1997, 45 percent are still in business today, while only 34 percent of those started nationwide that year are still around.

Wisconsin’s job growth may lag the rest of the country, but the industries where the state has seen growth tend to be in higher-paying sectors such as manufacturing and professional and business services. The industries that grew more slowly in Wisconsin, such as retail and service jobs in hotels and restaurants, tend to have lower salaries.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,

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