New report draws link between isolation and sluggish economy

A new report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance draws a connection between isolation and a sluggish economy, arguing that lawmakers worry about those left behind.

Though the state has gained over 180,000 jobs since the recession, employment declined in 16 counties between 2009 and 2016, the study period for the report. It uses this and other economic markers to highlight 22 counties, mostly in the northern and central parts of the state, that have “significantly” lagged behind other parts of Wisconsin.

“These contrasting trends suggest that policymakers err in concentrating on the statewide economy,” said Todd Berry, president of the 85-year-old policy research nonprofit.

Building upon a previous WISTAX report from 2014 that pointed to Wisconsin as the second-most transportation-dependent state in the country, the report points to three factors as most important: high-speed Internet, access to major highways and university campuses.

In 10 of the top 14 counties for economic growth, high-speed Internet is available to 85 percent of the population. And of the 13 counties with a four-year UW campus, 10 outperformed the state overall.

Of the 22 worst-performing states: 21 had declines in labor; all had unemployment rates in 2016 above the state average; 19 had home values below 2009 levels; and 13 saw employment drop during 2009 and 2016.

Almost all of these counties lack access to major transportation routes, cities and high-speed internet. Most have under 11,000 residents.

“If one word were to characterize these 22 lagging counties, it might be isolation,” Berry said.

He also noted that the biggest influencer on future economic progress is simply having enough young people there to fill the need for workers.

WISTAX calculates a ‘replacement rate’ for the report, which measures each county’s ability to replace aging workers with younger ones. Based on this calculation, the 12 best performing counties between 2009 and 2016 have nearly all the young workers needed to maintain their workforces, while the bottom 22 only have about half the number they need.

According to WISTAX, that means this inequality in economic growth will most likely continue for another decade.

See more on the report:

--By Alex Moe

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