By Art Lersch
University of Wisconsin Extension, Lincoln County
Has the labor/jobs picture changed that much over the past several years in Lincoln County? Are jobs being created in the county? Can more be done to improve our labor picture? These are all questions employers and leaders throughout the county are asking themselves on a regular basis. Some of the data is incomplete or mixed, especially from late 2007 through 2009 when the country was experiencing what has been called the “Great Recession.” But, indications are that the Lincoln County job picture has improved over the past few years.
Between 2012 and 2015, the number employed in the manufacturing sector in Lincoln County, traditionally the largest sector of workers, increased about 3.2% or 80 positions. This is a welcome turnaround considering that manufacturing employment decreased 27% from 2006 to 2012.
Decreases during this longer period of time can be mostly attributed to the aforementioned recession.
Despite losing a significant number of manufacturing positions over the past decade, the county labor market is still quite dependent on the manufacturing sector, although significantly less so than it was in the mid-2000s. Nearly 24% of all those employed in the county in 2015 worked in manufacturing. About 18% of all workers statewide were employed in manufacturing that same year. Back in 2006, 30% of those working in Lincoln County did so in the manufacturing sector. The percentage of workers employed in manufacturing statewide was about the same in 2006 as it was in 2015.
Helping to drive the county’s lessening dependence on manufacturing jobs were increases in the number of people employed in financial activities and trade/transportation/utilities. Although percentage increases were larger in other sectors, the impact was less significant because many of those sectors realized only small number increases as compared to the additional 367 people that entered the financial activities and trade/transportation/utilities sectors over the nine years. Significant gains in employment in the natural resources and mining sector of over 41% during the entire period translated into a gain of just 53 jobs, important but less impactful than what the previously mentioned sectors experienced. An additional 70 people found jobs in the construction field.
While there was a decrease in the total number of employed in Lincoln County from 2006 to 2012, there was also a significant 7.2% increase in the number employed between 2012 and 2015, indicating that local employers and decision makers were doing everything possible particularly in the last few years to maintain and increase jobs in the face of an aging (i.e. fewer people of working age) and declining population (the county’s population is estimated to have decreased by the U.S. Census Bureau by 2.6% from 2010 to 2015). Many of these jobs, especially in the manufacturing, financial activities, and public administration fields are family supporting positions.
Coupled with these interesting trends is evidence that the county labor force participation rate (LFPR), as determined by those employed and unemployed divided by the total persons age 16 and higher, steadily declined from the year 2000 to 2014. According to the Lincoln County Workforce Development Profile for 2015 (Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development), the county had about a 72% LFPR in the year 2000 as compared to a 64.4% rate in 2014. (The state’s LFPR in 2014 was 68.5%). The decline in the county’s labor force participation rate once again can be at least in part attributed to the county’s aging and declining population. Some of it may also be attributed to people perhaps giving up on finding employment, something that appears to have occurred particularly in the months following the Great Recession. Simply put, there are fewer people today in the county labor force than there were in 2000.
Jobs are being created in Lincoln County, including manufacturing positions. Like the entire country, manufacturing took a heavy hit during the last recession. But, we are now nearly seven years from that recession’s end and all signs, including the county’s latest unemployment rate of 4.4% (December 2016) currently point to a strengthening local economy. As we all know, however, things can change quickly as they did in 2008. And, those changes can be profound. In some ways, our confidence in the local economy was significantly eroded by what occurred during the last recession. The confidence likely still has not been fully restored, making us perhaps even more vulnerable to the next inevitable economic downturn. But, local leaders, businesses, companies, and employees have done a solid job of doing everything they could to place Lincoln County’s economy in good standing as we enter into another age that promises to be full of the unexpected. That in and of itself will help us weather the next economic storm. If you have questions or want to obtain more information, please call the author at 715-539-1075 or email him at Arthur.firstname.lastname@example.org.