Gov. Scott Walker wasted no time after his re-election doing what he does best — getting out in Wisconsin to talk about his priorities.
One of those priorities, the governor said Thursday during a visit to Western Technical College’s welding laboratory, is to make sure there are plenty of good-paying, high-quality jobs that can provide for middle-class families. And there needs to be more training that connects the student and the employer.
Walker is correct. A recent study by Marc Levine at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development found that much of the state’s job growth has been in jobs paying $12.50 an hour or less. That’s been happening since 2000 and was exacerbated by the Great Recession. The middle-wage occupations paying between $12.50 and $25 an hour accounted for 90 percent of the job loss.
Even if there were an increase in the minimum wage — which is not going to happen under Republican control — the economic job trends in Wisconsin are foreboding. The study shows that several occupations that were considered middle-wage jobs in 2010 have now fallen into the low-wage category.
Wages for the much-touted skilled labor jobs are going down. And evidence would suggest that the skills gap doesn’t even exist.
In the category of welding — which often is cited as the example where there is a shortage of workers — the inflation-adjusted median hourly wage fell by 6.5 percent between 2010 and 2013. A study done by Levine in 2013 challenges that there is even a skills gap for welders, pointing out that average weekly hours in Wisconsin were down 4.3 percent since 2000. If there was a demand for more welders, employers should be paying overtime.
Real wages for welders in Wisconsin have declined since 2000, contrary to the law of supply-and-demand. Meanwhile, in states such as Wyoming, North Dakota and Alaska, the demand for welders has resulted in real wages increasing by more than 20 percent.
Levine’s recent study released in October doesn’t give us much hope that Wisconsin’s transformation into a low-wage economy is going to change anytime soon. The study says of the 15 occupations projected by the Department of Workforce Development to grow the most between 2010 and 2020, all pay wages lower than $12.50 an hour and six are under $10.
The only middle-wage occupations on the growth list are registered nurses, truck drivers, office clerks, customer service representatives and medical secretaries. Welders are not even on the list.
Walker chose to make his training talk at several visits around the state Thursday while eschewing an invitation to attend the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents meeting. When asked why he made that choice, Walker said it doesn’t do any good for the state to educate students and train employees in which there are no jobs.
It’s disappointing that state Republicans appear to have picked up where they left off with their relentless attack on UW System and disparaging liberal arts degrees. A recent report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities shows that half of all social service jobs are filled by liberal arts majors.
Sadly we’ll need those jobs even more because the demand for services will increase if we continue down the depressing path of becoming a low-wage state.
— La Crosse Tribune