Wisconsin’s Age Problem

It’s a real problem.

The Wisconsin Counties Association’s nonpartisan research arm, Forward Analytics, recently released a study that raises concerns about the state’s migration patterns. The report claims that Wisconsin doesn’t have enough young people to take over jobs from baby boomers set to retire in the coming 10 to 15 years, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

“We’ve got to figure out how to turn that around and we’ve got to do it fairly quickly because baby boomers are nearing retirement,” said Dale Knapp, Forward Analytics’ research director.

The state’s migration of children dropped below 10,000 from 2010 to 2015. Before 2010, Wisconsin added 40,000 children from outside the state over a five-year period.

Wisconsin’s birthrate has also declined to its lowest in four decades.

Former Gov. Scott Walker launched a marketing campaign last year to try to lure millennials, age 21 to 35, to the state. Wisconsin has struggled to retain younger millennials, who often prefer big cities and more entertainment options.

Knapp recommends that Wisconsin instead targets families that might want to settle in the state. He says Wisconsin can offer quality schools, safe neighborhoods and recreation.

Wisconsin was successfully able to lure people in their 30s to 50s around 1990 to make up for the exodus of younger residents, many of whom were college graduates leaving the state, he said.

Knapp said the issue is that states across the country are facing an aging population and declining birthrate.

“So we have to figure out what makes us different, what makes us more attractive than IowaIllinoisIndiana or Minnesota. So we can attract those workers,” Knapp said. “Our long-term economy really depends on it.”

As I am wont to say when people ask me why I moved to Wisconsin almost 20 years ago, people only move for one of two reasons… love or money. Young people are generally moving out of Wisconsin for money… higher paying jobs. And many retirees and people in the middle of their careers move out of the state for the same reason, but are more likely to factor in a lower cost of living (lower taxes, housing prices, etc.). That’s why we see the net migration to states like Arizona, Florida, etc. Some people stay in Wisconsin, or leave and come back, for love. Love of family, love of spouse, etc.

The State of Wisconsin can’t do anything about love, but they can focus on money. How can the state make Wisconsin a more attractive place for businesses with higher paying jobs to locate in Wisconsin? How can the state make Wisconsin lower the cost of living so that people don’t need a job that pays as much to have the same standard of living in other states? What are states that enjoy an interstate net inflow of people doing differently?

I’ll give you a clue… all of the marketing in the world won’t compensate for higher taxes, more regulation, and crappy winters, but the state government can only do something about the first two.