Posted tagged ‘Center On Wisconsin Strategy’

We Need A Generational Change In Leadership

September 23, 2014

I spent a lot of time in early 2014 researching and pondering how Wisconsin’s economy stagnated after rising to pre-eminence in the 1970s. Among other things, I found Wisconsin’s leadership was resolutely stuck in the past while the national economy had moved on.

[T]hose old fights define Wisconsin, economically and politically. It’s as though our leaders are historical reenactors at Old World Wisconsin. They fire their muskets and shout the old-time shibboleths. Most of this is just spectacle — not really connected to resolving Wisconsin’s precarious economic position in the 21st century. But old habits don’t easily die.

Looking back at old glories, Democrats embrace the unions. Indeed, nothing rallies the base like a pledge to repeal the union-gutting Act 10. But unions are a declining force and face a questionable future in an era when worker-filled assembly lines are disappearing. Nationally, only one in nine workers is a member. In Wisconsin, union membership plunged from 33.5% of the non-farm workforce in 1965 to 12.4% in 2013, according to the economists at the Unionstats.com website.

The future is not bright. The expanding IT field, with its mix of collaborative teams, creative work and 1099 workers, seems particularly ill-suited to old-school unionism.

Republicans, meanwhile, embrace big business, especially traditional manufacturing, and have decisively tilted the state’s tax, regulatory and development initiatives to its benefit. That’s a king-size problem. Manufacturing jobs may have led Wisconsin’s modest recovery from the Great Recession. And Wisconsin does rank with Indiana as one of the top two industrial states in the nation. But Wisconsin’s glory days of manufacturing have decisively passed.

In 1979, manufacturing and its high-paying unionized work accounted for 33% of the jobs in Wisconsin. By 2012, it was 18%, according to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS).

Reality is that Wisconsin never recovered economically from the crushing recession of 1981-82. The bloody harbinger of Rust Belt de-industrialization, it laid waste to the huge manufacturing base in the eastern half of the state that runs from the Fox River Valley through Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha and out to Janesville and Beloit.

I make the case that we sorely need of a generational change in leadership. Both the techies and the Millennials are the sort of pragmatic idealists Wisconsin needs.  You can read a lot more here. Also, posted below is a related piece that ran in the same issue of Isthmus.

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Wisconsin’s Two Great Crises

September 21, 2012

In this column for Isthmus, I argue that Wisconsin’s economic malaise has been made worse by the failure in the state’s leadership. Here’s a chunk of copy:

For a good decade, Wisconsin’s economy has stagnated and declined. Even the end of the Great Recession in 2009 brought no real relief.

The ugly truth is that the Wisconsin workforce has shed 164,500 jobs from the pre-recessionary high in December 2007. That’s almost a 6% decline, according to a fine, detail-rich report from the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

But the situation is even worse, given the state’s population growth of 2.8%. COWS estimates that another 81,000 jobs are needed to keep the newcomers employed.

Wisconsin’s total job deficit? 245,900 jobs.

Just as bad, wallets are noticeably thinner for almost everyone. COWS focuses on four-person families and finds over the past decade that annual income has dropped from $84,500 to $76,000.

Note that conservatives often bash the Center on Wisconsin Strategy because its leaders — Joel Rogers and Laura Dresser — are advocates for progressive economic strategies. But the center’s reports pass the ideological blood test. COWS was just as hard on Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle during his lackluster eight years when the Wisconsin economy first slid into the ditch.

And that brings us to the most discouraging fact of all: Wisconsin’s leaders — not just Democrats and Republicans, but business and labor, city and county, even university and tech school leaders — have been depressingly ineffective in getting us out of that ditch.

We have a leadership deficit in Wisconsin, not just a jobs deficit.

To read more , including my criticism of Gov. Scott Walker for saddling the state’s jobs agency with a political appointee with no relevant experience, please go here.


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