Wisconsin is estimated to lose 130,000 residents of prime working age by 2030 as young people move away from the state, according to a study from last Wednesday.
The study from Forward Analytics, the Wisconsin Counties Association’s research arm, examined data from federal income tax returns and the U.S. Census to analyze Wisconsin migration patterns.
Researchers found Wisconsin lost 106,000 more families whose head of household was younger than 26 than it gained between 2012 and 2020.
If current migration trends continue, Wisconsin will have 130,000 fewer workers between the ages of 25 and 64 by 2030. That’s not enough young workers to replace the large baby boomer population expected to retire in the coming years, according to the study.
“Attracting and retaining these young people is critical for Wisconsin,” Forward Analytics director Dale Knapp said. “It would also help long term, as many of these young adults will soon be starting a family and raising the next generation of workers.”
Wisconsin’s ‘brain drain’ continues
The decline in Wisconsin's workforce is not a new issue. Net migration into the state decreased by almost a third between 2002 and 2012, and by 75% since the 1990s.
“This is a demographic thing that we've known is going to be happening for quite some time,” Dennis Winters, chief economists for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce said. “Like I say — every hour, y'all get an hour older, and that's not going to change.”
So, where are residents going? The study suggests Wisconsin is losing families to states with warmer climates or lower income taxes, such as Florida or Arizona.
One third of the lost families moved to neighboring states, and the other two-thirds went to states beyond Wisconsin’s borders, including California, Washington and New York.
However, of the third who moved to neighboring states, 43% were headed for either the Twin Cities or Chicago. Those findings align with a Washington Post analysis from earlier this month that found Wisconsin was experiencing a “brain drain” of highly educated students moving away to metropolitan areas for better job opportunities.
Winters said the decline in workers may be contributing to shortages in “just about every occupation. Teachers and nurses and daycare providers and welders, you know, pretty much across the gamut.”
Tech industry career opportunities are a microcosm of the issues affecting Wisconsin’s declining workforce, according to a study released by the Tech Councils of North America earlier this year. However, the state recorded a 0.9% increase in tech jobs during the two-year period following the peak of the pandemic and 6.6% overall in the year ending in April, the study found.
Despite Madison’s growth, tech hubs San Jose and Boulder still account for around 43% of American tech sector jobs. Madison accounts for approximately 7%.
The Forward Analytics study, however, indicates that residents who leave Wisconsin as they begin to build their career often return when they wish to build a family.
“Wisconsin gains a surprising number of residents from [states like California, Arizona and New York],” the study said. “The average family size of those moving here was at least 10% greater than those leaving Wisconsin, consistent with young families returning to the state.”
Wisconsin will unlikely be able to match the tech sector employment opportunities or mild climate of the West Coast. However, Knapp thinks the state should instead capitalize on its family-friendliness.
“This study shows that the state can build on its reputation of good schools, low crime, and great outdoor amenities to attract families headed by those in their 30s and 40s,” he said.
Annika Bereny is a staff writer for the Daily Cardinal specializing in state news and politics reporting. Follow her on Twitter at @annikabereny.