Changing Demographics and Wisconsin's Economic Future
The impending retirement of the baby-boom generation will have significant effects on Wisconsin's economy over the next 30 years. As this large cohort retires, the size of Wisconsin's workforce will stall; the working-age population is expected to decline 0.2% between 2010 and 2040.Only 21 of the state's 72 counties are expected to see increases in residents ages 20 to 64, and only six will see increases of more than 10%. Working-age populations are expected to drop more than 10% in 13 northern counties.
Demography is Destiny
Many aspects of government and the economy-tax collections and stock prices, for example-are difficult to predict. But future school enrollments and workforce numbers are not. Metaphorically, today's babies are tomorrow's students and next week's working men and women.
As the saying goes, demography is destiny. Population trends that have been building for decades are now "coming home." Wisconsin is undergoing a major demographic shift that will adversely impact employers, taxpayers, government revenues, and the state economy's capacity to grow.
The seeds were sown in the years after World War IT, when returning GIs married, had children, built houses, and bought all that went with them—furniture, appliances, automobiles, and remodeling. As the nation's population surged, so did the American economy.
Over the next six decades, the demographic tidal wave of maturing "baby boomers" inundated almost everything in its path, leaving new mores and lifestyles, new political and societal institutions, and new technologies and wealth.
Now, as these boomers begin to retire, their oversized generation's impact will again be felt-but in a new and less positive way. As growth in the workforce stalls, job growth will
The proverbial tea leaves have long been there for Wisconsin's political, civic, and business leaders to read-if they had wanted. During the 1950s, birth of the bulk of the baby-boom cohort pushed state population up sharply; annual growth averaged 1.4%.
Loss of kids highest in northern Wisconsin
Most Counties Losing Workers
Between 2010 and 2040, the working age population is expected to fall 0.2% statewide. In 51 of the state's 72 counties, the decline will be larger, with northern counties taking the biggest hits.
The combined 11-county area from Barron in the West to Langlade in the East and running to Bayfield, Ashland, and Iron counties in the North will see a near 20% drop in the number of working-age residents. Price (-41.0%) and Bayfield (-35.1%) are expected to experience the largest declines in the state.
Three other areas are expected to see declines of more than 10%: northeastern Wisconsin from Kewaunee County north to Florence; central Wisconsin from Green Lake to Wood; and southwestern Wisconsin.
Growth will generally follow major highways from Brown County south to Kenosha, then northwest through Dane and Sauk to Saint Croix County. Kenosha and Saint Croix counties benefit from growth in the Chicago and Minneapolis areas, respectively.
North Losing Kids, As Well
Economic prospects for northern Wisconsin become of greater concern when changes in student populations are considered. During 1997-2003, enrollments in five northern school districts declined more than 40%; in another 16, they dropped more than 30%.
That pattern is expected to continue. During 2010-40, state demographers expect the school-age population to drop more than 30% in Bayfield and Price counties. Declines will top 20% in Ashland, Lincoln, Pepin, and Rusk counties.
This will have both short- and long-term consequences. First, it raises questions about how to educate children in sparsely populated areas. More than 60 northern districts already have fewer than five students per square mile, making school transportation costly. Of these, more than 40 are small, enrolling fewer than 500 students. Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance research has shown that small districts lack scale economies that allow larger districts to reduce costs. Further enrollment declines will exacerbate these challenges.
The future of the workforce beyond 2040 has not been examined here. But having fewer students has workforce implications after 2040. Declining student populations over the next 30 years portends continued workforce shrinkage over the next 50.
Source for this article: Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance