Originally published by the Stevens Point Journal
The following is a brief excerpt from the May 20 UW-Stevens Point CWERB Economic Indicator Report. This activity was made possible by a generous grant from BMO Harris Bank of Stevens Point.
Marathon, Portage and Wood County all experienced a decline in their unemployment rates’ from a year ago. The respective March rates for Portage, Marathon and Wood are now down to 5.1, 4.5 and 6.3 percent in March 2016. The labor force weighted unemployment rate for Central Wisconsin also contracted, and is now at 5.1 percent. Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.4 to 5.0 percent. Thus, the unemployment rates were much improved throughout the region and state. The United States unemployment rate also fell from 5.6 percent to 5.1 percent over the past twelve months.
Total Employment figures are based on the government’s survey of households. Portage County’s total employment figure rose by 1,500 positions and total employment in Wood County expanded by about 200 jobs over the past year. Meanwhile, Marathon County payrolls are estimated to have grown by 1,100 positions over the past twelve months. Thus, Central Wisconsin as a whole experienced an employment growth of about 2,700 positions. Jobs in the region rose from 139.1 to 141.8 thousand or by 1.9 percent. The survey of households also shows that Wisconsin’s payrolls increased by 1.8 percent. The nation gained 1.8 percent or about 3.10 million jobs over the same period.
Economists believe the nonfarm employment numbers which are based on employer-provided data, give a more accurate assessment of the labor market conditions than the household survey data. From March 2015 to March 2016 Wisconsin’s total nonfarm employment expanded from 2.83 million to 2.88 million or by 1.8 percent. This represents a gain of approximately 50 thousand jobs during the past year. Unlike past periods when only a few of the state’s 11 major industrial sectors expanded, this time all but four of the sectors recorded gains in employment. Overall though, the rate of job generation continues to be very modest in the state as measured by this data set and compared to what our neighbor states are experiencing.
Portage County sales tax distributions were stronger this year than last, rising from $1.30 million in 2015 to $1.38 million in 2016, an increase of almost 6 percent. Marathon also experienced an increase in sales tax distributions from the state. Marathon rose from $2.56 million to $2.81 million or by about 10 percent. However, Wood County collections contracted from $1.35 million to $1.24 million or by about 8 percent over the course of the past year. The data suggests there was improvement in retail activity in some parts of Central Wisconsin retail activity.
The CWERB surveys area business executives for their thoughts on the economy. The mark of 44 means this group believes that recent events at the national level have led to deterioration in the country’s economic condition. In addition, and more importantly, they believe the local business climate has declined over the past twelve months, i.e. a response level of 44. When they were asked to forecast economic conditions at the national level they were optimistic, but less so about the future direction of the economy than in the recent past. Also, they expressed similar levels of optimism for the local economy, and for their particular industry, i.e. appraisals in the upper 50s to the low 60s .Overall, the survey shows that the level of optimism expressed about the current state of economy was generally lower in March 2016, than what it was in March 2015.
Randy Cray, Ph.D., is the chief economist at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Central Wisconsin Economic Research Bureau