August 2022, authored by Laura Dresser, Joel Rogers, Pablo Aquiles-Sanchez, and Anna Milewski.
In celebration of Wisconsin workers, COWS releases The State of Working Wisconsin 2022 with the most recent data available on wages, jobs, disparities, and unions to build a stronger understanding of what is going on in the state’s labor market. This year’s report also features a series of profiles highlighting stories of workers organizing across Wisconsin.
2022 provides better news about work and for workers than any year in this century.
Unemployment is low and workers are leveraging the opportunity in this moment to improve their jobs. Some are moving to new jobs, others are staying in their jobs and demanding more from them. Some are building power through union organizing drives.
To be sure, deep underlying problems – job quality in low wage jobs, severe racial inequality, and long-term union decline – are still with us and the gains of this year could easily be lost if we move into recession. But this year, workers have seized opportunities to improve their working conditions. If formal and informal worker organizing continues, Wisconsin may begin to see a longer-term shift.
Since the abrupt shutdown in March 2020 the economic recovery has been impressive. Nationally, the labor market is fully recovered and in Wisconsin the labor market is tight. Even so, opportunity has not reached all industries, workers, or locations equally.
For the three million working Wisconsinites, wages are the most important measure of the quality of their jobs. Despite the restructuring of every aspect of work and life in response to the pandemic, wages continue to serve as the essential indicator of job quality and inequality in the state.
Unions represent worker interests and help raise wages and job quality standards. While Wisconsin unionization has seen a steady downward slide over the last 50 years and a steep decline as a direct result of Act 10, public support for unions is growing.
Low unemployment rates, high rates of job changing, and increasing median wages provide evidence of workers’ growing strength in the labor market. Increasingly, workers are seeking to organize unions to represent their interests and formalize their bargaining power.