Jobs and Skills Publications

Below is a list of our reports related to jobs and skills, in descending order by year published. Explore other topics here and all COWS reports here.

  • Kristinn Már Ársælsson, and Joel Rogers. Digital’s Promise for Worker Organizing: A 2018 Update. LIFT (Labor Innovation for the 21st Century), 2019.

    Digital tools and technologies—most familiarly, apps, websites, internet search engines and social media platforms—have become a central and pervasive feature of our lives.

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  • In the 20th Century, people from around the world came to Wisconsin and the Midwest, seeking opportunity in the industrial boom. Manufacturing and unions helped create good jobs for many black workers, but discrimination and segregation limited that sharply. When industrial jobs declined, black Midwesterners suffered the most. Over the last 40 years, opportunity and outcomes for black residents in Wisconsin have fallen below national averages. As a result, black Wisconsinites face stubborn barriers and road blocks that many white people don’t even know are there. Racial disparity in Wisconsin is not inevitable, but closing the gap will require a broad focus and multifaceted approach.

    ‘Wisconsin’s Extreme Racial Disparity’ provides a Wisconsin-focused summary to ‘Race in the Heartland‘, which shows the persistence of racial disparities in the Midwest and what can be done about them.

    Wisconsin has the regrettable distinction of ranking among the worst states in the nation for racial inequality. Disparities among black and white residents of our state – spanning poverty, unemployment, educational attainment, and incarceration – have been documented consistently for more than a decade. Although activists and policymakers have increasingly focused on addressing these issues, they remain pressing.

    ‘Race in the Heartland’ and ‘Wisconsin’s Extreme Racial Disparity’ provide a careful historical context and a broadly informed policy framework that are critical to winning greater racial equity throughout this region.

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  • Each year on Labor Day, COWS draws a picture of how working people in Wisconsin are faring. The long report, The State of Working Wisconsin, is released biannually on even-numbered years and looks at the economy comprehensively from a working-family perspective. In odd-numbered years, like 2019, we provide a more abbreviated and focused report, called The State of Working Wisconsin: Facts & Figures.

    On some of the most well-known economic indicators, there is good news for Wisconsin workers. The unemployment rate in the state has been consistently low. The economy is steadily adding jobs. These are important measures for working people’s lives. When jobs are more available not only is it easier to secure a job, it is also easier to get the hours of work you want, to be able to ask for time-off you need, and to make ends meet. This Labor Day, with the memory of the Great Recession of 2007 now fading from memory, workers across Wisconsin have this good news to celebrate.

    Even so, many working families in the state feel stressed and stretched. In this report, then, we provide information on few key long-term trends that are contributing to the stress even in the context of low unemployment. Looking across the last forty years, the challenges working people face are clear. Wage growth has been anemic. Income inequality is reaching new highs. Unions, which have been so critical to supporting workers in this state, are in serious decline. Additionally, state policy, which could be helping to close gaps, is actually exacerbating these trends. From tax changes that reward our highest income families to rejection of health insurance to cover our families in need, policy continues to pave the low-road for our state.

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  • Matthew Braunginn, James Irwin, and Satya Rhodes-Conway. A Divest & Invest Guide for Local Governments: Reducing Carbon Risk and Investing in Local Economic Strength. COWS, 2019.

    This guide examines the case for addressing climate risk in investments, examine potential solutions and ways to implement them, and explore how reinvestments can create good jobs. This is specifically aimed at local governments, though the strategies and approaches have been proven effective in other sectors.

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  • Joel Rogers, and Kris Ársælsson. Digital’s Promise for Worker Organizing: A 2018 Update. LIFT: Labor Innovations for the 21st Century, 2019.
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  • Joel Rogers, Emanuel Ubert, and Anna Walther. State of Working Wisconsin 2018. COWS, 2018.

    Despite job gains, Wisconsin’s job growth is slow relative to the national pace. Wages are still in no way keeping pace with worker productivity. Wisconsin is comparatively weak in more lucrative occupations: professional, scientific, technical, and information. Our manufacturing sector, while growing, is a still significantly smaller than at the beginning of the century. And inequality continues to grow. One in five workers currently holds a poverty-wage job with few benefits. Rural economies are declining. Wisconsin’s black/white disparities still lead the nation.

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  • Equity in Apprenticeship is a report series which highlights programs that use apprenticeship to extend occupational opportunity to historically marginalized groups, especially people of color and women.

    These case studies of apprenticeship programs span the country and industries:

    1. Health Care Pathways in LA: New Apprenticeship Opportunities as an Industry Changes
      The Worker Education and Resource Center (WERC) in Los Angeles has become highly adept at preparing health care workers who share a cultural affinity with LA’s patient populations.
    2. Manufacturing Pathways in Milwaukee: Bringing Skills and Equity to Manufacturing’s Future
      The Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) program is the product of collaboration between labor and management leaders in Milwaukee’s manufacturing sector and has created a new rung in the ladder in production jobs.
    3. Equity from the Frontline: Workers’ Insight and Leadership Supports a Network of Apprenticeships in Transit
      In California, the Joint Workforce Investment in the South Bay Valley Transportation Authority has developed a web of apprenticeships and advancement opportunities.

    Equity in Apprenticeship was funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. We are grateful for their generous support. The findings and conclusions presented in this series are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

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  • Sarah Thomason, Lea Austin, Annette Bernhardt, Ken Jacobs, and Marcy Whitebook. At the Wage Floor: Covering Homecare and Early Care and Education Workers in the New Generation of Minimum Wage Laws. COWS, 2018.

    In November 2012, fast-food workers in New York went on strike and the Fight for $15 was born. Over the last five years, the movement has lifted wages for more than 17 million workers across the nation by fighting for and winning numerous minimum wage policies (National Employment Law Project 2016). Substantial minimum wage increases are underway in California, New York, Oregon, and more than 30 cities and counties around the country. In states and cities covered by them, these new minimum wages will increase earnings for 25 to 40 percent of workers (Reich, Allegretto, and Montialoux 2017; Reich et al. 2016). After four decades of wage stagnation and rising inequality, the movement has delivered real, much needed, and meaningful progress in a remarkably short period of time.

    Fast food has been iconic in the discussions of the minimum wage, from the influential mid-1990s research that found no negative employment impact of wage increases in the industry, to the fast-food workers who have walked out on strike in cities across the country in recent years (Card and Kruger 1995). But of course the reach of these wage increases extends well beyond fast food to underpaid workers in multiple industries. The dynamics of minimum wage increases vary across industries based on each industry’s specific structure.

    Nowhere are the distinct dynamics more pronounced and challenging than for those employed in human services industries. This paper focuses on an important subset of these workers: those who provide homecare and early care and education services to the very young, people with disabilities, and those who are frail due to age or illness. We explain the pressing need to raise these workers’ wages and the unique structure of their industries that results in a funding squeeze for wage increases—at the root of this is the fact that most families are unable to afford all of the homecare and child care they need, never mind pay enough to ensure that workers earn a living wage, and public human services are chronically underfunded.

    These workers provide a critical (but too often unrecognized) public good; as such, we argue that a significant public investment is a necessary part of the solution, both to deliver minimum wage increases to these workers and to cover the significant unmet need for care. We provide background about the shared and divergent challenges in the homecare and early care and education industries, as well as review emerging policy initiatives to fund wage increases for homecare and early care and education workers and identify principles for public policy going forward.

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  • In the fourth quarter of 2017, Wisconsin added 12,500 jobs, most of them in October. In contrast to the strong October, in December, Wisconsin actually lost jobs. Still, over the quarter, the state’s job base grew. Growth was driven by private sector gains, with the state adding 15,200 private jobs. The state lost 2,700 public sector jobs across the quarter capping off a very weak year in the public sector. Wisconsin’s ended 2017 with 3,300 fewer public sector jobs than a year ago. Still, as with the quarter, so with the year. Private sector growth meant that the state jobs base grew 1.4 percent: Wisconsin added 40,200 jobs in 2017. The unemployment rate continues to drop slowly across the nation and Wisconsin is not an exception. Unemployment in Wisconsin stands now at 3.0%, significantly below the level of the end of 2016 and at its lowest point since the recession.

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  • Mel Meder, Satya Rhodes-Conway, and Michael Wolf. A New Jersey That Works for Working People. COWS, 2018.

    New Jersey’s economy has not recovered from the recession like it could – and should – have. Economic difficulties that began with losses in manufacturing jobs throughout the 1980s have persisted. Despite a diverse population and a shift in land use from sprawling suburban growth to more infill development, job numbers and GDP are growing too slowly. And what growth there is, isn’t distributed equally. New Jersey struggles with extreme racial and economic disparities that distribute the benefits of the economy not as shared prosperity, but to the wealthy.

    State policy can and must lift up working people and their families, creating a more equitable and inclusive New Jersey. The State must act to raise labor market standards, creating more jobs that pay good wages and provide full benefits. State economic development strategy should also adopt higher standards, ensuring that only businesses that provide good jobs are incentivized with public funds. Housing and transportation policy at the state level should direct resources and planning toward more connected, dense neighborhoods that are either near job centers or within easy, affordable transit access to job opportunities; key to this will be ensuring that affordable housing is available, especially in areas with increasing development. Additionally, policy shifts can uphold the civil rights of people of color and immigrants, while also protecting these communities from disproportionate health and economic impacts of environmental degradation. This report discusses a selection of such policies.

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