by Senator Terry Moulton
Over the past few months, I’ve had the honor of attending several ribbon cutting ceremonies for a wide range of companies in our area, including a building materials supply company, a plastics manufacturer and a health care services company. As our economy continues to grow, new businesses, big and small, are opening their doors, while established businesses continue to expand. From healthcare facilities to agriculture manufacturing companies to mom and pop shops, our economic growth is not limited to one industry.
The growth we are seeing in our communities is not limited to this part of Wisconsin. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released an updated report on employment and job statistics. The data shows Wisconsin’s economy continues to grow. Wisconsin added nearly 11,000 private sector jobs in June and nearly 50,000 private jobs in the past year.
While the national unemployment rate increased to 4.9 percent, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate held steady at a fifteen year low of 4.2 percent. Wisconsin is one of only ten states to achieve an annual average unemployment rate lower than 2007, the year the recession began. The unemployment rate for 68 out of Wisconsin’s 72 counties decreased or remained the same compared to June 2015.
In addition to declining unemployment rates, the labor force participation rate is another indicator of economic growth in Wisconsin. The labor force participation rate represents the percentage of working age people who are either employed or looking for work. Our labor force participation rate is 68.5 percent, outpacing the national rate by 5.8 percentage points. That means more people are working in Wisconsin than at almost any other point in our history.
As more people get back to work, unemployment claims in Wisconsin are reaching historic lows. First-time unemployment claims for 2016 are at their lowest level since 1989 and continuing unemployment claims have reached their lowest level in 30 years.
The facts are clear – Wisconsin is open for business and our workforce is ready to roll up its sleeves. However, to ensure Wisconsin remains on this prosperous path, we must close the skills gap. Wisconsin employers need access to a highly skilled workforce to meet their labor needs. Frequently, employers in our state have family-supporting, skilled jobs to fill but are unable to find workers trained for these jobs.
Over the past four years, the state legislature has invested $60 million in the Foodshare Employment and Training Program to help hardworking Wisconsinites who have fallen on hard times get the training they need to find work. This program provides recipients with free educational courses, vocational training and additional resources to build their job skills. Job training staff provide customized career readiness workshops, sector-based academics and partnership referrals, which work to ensure that people in the program become independent and self-sufficient.
Additionally, by integrating school-based and work-based learning, young people in Wisconsin are able to gain real-life experience and skills before graduating. Programs like Fast Forward, Dual Enrollment, and Youth Apprenticeship help our students jump start their careers by providing them with the training and practical skills needed to succeed in our workforce.
With the next budget cycle approaching, I look forward to working with Governor Walker and fellow legislators to ensure all Wisconsinites have access to the education and job training programs that will help them achieve true independence.
As a small business owner, I vividly remember the day my family and I cut the ribbon to open our business and how important a day that was for us. I look forward to attending many more ribbon cuttings in our communities as our economy continues to expand.