Wisconsin Has Seen Largest Middle-Class Decline Of Any State, Study Finds
Wisconsin’s middle class saw the steepest decline in the country since 2000, according to a new study. Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture (CC-BY)
Economist Says De-Unionization, Recession, Erosion Of Manufacturing Are Factors
The study found that the percentage of households in the middle class dropped in all 50 states, with Wisconsin’s drop from 54.6 percent to 48.9 percent being the most significant. Moreover, Wisconsin saw a 14 percent decline in median household income.
Marc Levine — professor of history, economic development and urban studies, and director of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development — attributed the state’s shrinking middle class to the Great Recession, among other factors. He said reversing the trend would require raising the minimum wage and restoring unions, especially in the manufacturing industry.
Wisconsin’s economy relies on manufacturing perhaps more than any other state, said Levine. When manufacturing gets hit hard, he said, Wisconsin gets hit hard too.
Since 2000, Wisconsin has lost about 90,000 — between 18 to 20 percent — of its manufacturing jobs, according to Levine, in part due to free trade agreements and Chinese imports.
Levine said another big part of the story has been “downward occupational skidding.” Laid-off manufacturing workers have been displaced into lower-paying jobs in the service industry, and those who have been able to continue working in the manufacturing industry have seen stagnant wages.