Category Archives: Wisconsin

Understanding the Seventh District’s economic slowdown in 2015

As I noted on this blog in February 2015, 2014 was a pretty good year for the Seventh District. Real District gross state product (GSP) grew 1.2%, the unemployment rate fell from 7.3% to 5.8%, and payroll employment grew 1.5%. The strong finish to 2014 led me to feel quite optimistic for how 2015 would turn out. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly clear that economic activity in the Seventh District has steadily slowed as 2015 has progressed. While the District is certainly not in recession, it is now likely growing at a below-trend pace. In this blog post, I provide evidence of the slowdown and explore how the fortunes of District states’ signature industries have both contributed to and helped mitigate the slowdown.

While we wait for the GSP data for 2015 to be released (due out in June), arguably the best overall indicator we have for 2015 District economic activity is our Midwest Economy Index [1] (I should note here that we will be releasing a new survey-based activity index later this month). Figure 1 shows values for the MEI from 2014 to the present. The index was well above zero throughout 2014, indicating that growth was consistently above trend. Just as 2015 began, the index began to decline, and it entered negative territory in June. The most recent reading of the MEI (for November 2015) indicates that District growth is somewhat below trend.

1-MEI

Some important indicators included in the calculation of the MEI are payroll employment, the regional Purchasing Manager Indexes (PMIs) [2], and per capita personal income. Not surprisingly, they also largely suggest that economic activity in the District slowed in 2015. Figure 2 shows that while District payroll employment grew by an average of 23,000 jobs per month in 2014, the pace of growth slowed to only about 12,000 new jobs per month in 2015. Figure 3 shows the simple average of the five PMIs available for the Seventh District. This average also indicates that economic activity declined notably starting in 2015. As a counterpoint, figure 4 shows that the pace of growth in real personal income per capita has not slowed much in 2015: The annualized growth rate for 2014 was 3.08% and the available data for 2015 (through Q3) indicate that the annualized growth rate has only slowed to 2.94%.

2&3-Emp&PMIs

4-RIPC

While the preponderance of evidence suggests that Seventh District economic activity slowed in 2015, it turns out that the experiences of individual states within the District have been quite different. Figure 5 shows the sum of the contributions to the MEI for the eastern states of the District (Indiana and Michigan) and the sum for the western states of the District (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin). Growth in 2014 was above the District’s long run trend in both sub-regions, but the western states outperformed the eastern states. The pace of activity in the eastern states picked up steadily through the first half of 2015 and has since slowed to near the District’s trend. This experience contrasts quite notably with that of the western states. Activity in these states began to slow at the end of 2014 and continued to slow until the middle of 2015, at which point conditions improved some.

5-WEMEIs

One approach to understanding the different experiences of eastern and western District states is to do an economic base analysis for each state. Such an analysis identifies the industries whose employment is especially concentrated in a state (and therefore likely quite important for the state’s economy) by calculating a location quotient (LQ). A location quotient is the ratio of the share of employment in an industry in a state to the share of employment in an industry in the U.S. as a whole:

Formula

As an example, if the machinery industry’s share of employment in Michigan is 1.3% and the machinery industry’s share of employment in the U.S. is 1%, then the location quotient is 1.3, and we say that the machinery industry is 30% more concentrated in Michigan than in the U.S. as a whole.

For this blog post, I calculate location quotients for each state for each of the 3-digit NAICS industries that are available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) payroll employment survey.[3] I then consider the industries in each state with a location quotient greater than 1.5. This approach successfully identifies the signature industries one typically thinks of for each state in the District. For example, the analysis picks up Michigan’s auto industry, Indiana’s steel industry, and Illinois’s, Iowa’s, and Wisconsin’s machinery industry.

Table 1 shows the high-location quotient industries for Indiana and Michigan, along with the percentage of overall employment the industry represents and the year-over-year employment growth rate of the industry from November 2014 to November 2015. With the exception of the primary metals industry (where employment fell by 0.93%), employment grew for all of Indiana’s high-LQ industries and was solid for most of them. The story is even clearer in Michigan, where the auto industry dominates. Employment in the transportation equipment industry grew 4.59% over the past year.

To summarize the overall growth of District states’ flagship industries, I calculate the average growth rate for the industries, weighted by their relative size. Employment in Indiana’s flagship industries grew 1.35% over the past year, while employment in Michigan’s flagship industries grew 3.38%. Thus, even though the pace of growth in economic activity slowed in Indiana and Michigan in the second half of 2015, it was still a good year for both states.

6-Table 1

The story is more mixed for the states in the western part of the District (table 2). Machinery (and the fabricated metal producers who support them) has not faired well in the past year: Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin all saw notable declines in machinery and fabricated metal employment (with the exception of Wisconsin’s machinery employment, which was flat). However, Iowa and Wisconsin were helped by strong growth in other flagship industries (food products in both Iowa and Wisconsin and finance in Iowa). Illinois has few other flagship industries to help it, though it’s worth noting that Chicago has fared much better than downstate Illinois because of its concentration in business services and finance. Average employment growth for Illinois’s high-LQ industries was dismal (-2.04%), while growth was solid for Iowa’s (1.58%), and slow for Wisconsin’s (0.73%). Thus, although some flagship industries have done well in the western states in the District, the struggles of the machinery industry appear to have put quite a damper on their economic performance.

7-Table 2

So we see that the overall slowdown in the District in 2015 was not a shared experience across District states. The eastern states (Michigan and Indiana) did notably better than the western states (Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin) and these differences are relatively consistent with the performance of states’ flagship industries. What does the future hold for these flagship industries? At the moment, it’s hard to find much evidence that there will be a significant reversal of fortunes in 2016. The auto industry is likely to continue to benefit from steady growth in the U.S. economy and low gasoline prices, while the machinery industry is likely to continue to suffer from weaker global growth and depressed commodities prices (which hurt demand for both mining and agriculture machinery).

That said, while flagship industries certainly play an important role in a state’s economy because of all the related industries that support them, there are still many industries that are not closely related to them. For example, Iowa’s contribution to the MEI has been negative for most of 2015 (not shown), likely because of the struggles in the farming industry (see the Chicago Fed’s latest AgLetter for more details). The converging trends in the MEI (figure 5) suggest that these other factors are also making their presence known.

[1] The MEI is a weighted average of 129 Seventh District state and regional indicators measuring growth in nonfarm business activity from four broad sectors of the Midwest economy: manufacturing, construction and mining, services, and consumer spending.

[2] The PMIs included in the index are for Chicago, Iowa, Detroit, and Milwaukee.

[3] Data are not available for all 3-digit NAICS industries because there is not sufficient employment in some industries in some states for the BLS to be able to cover them accurately.

A Chicago-Milwaukee Region?

Could cities located near one another, Milwaukee and Chicago for example, enhance their respective growth and development through closer linkages? Why might a greater Chicago–Milwaukee metropolitan area want stronger ties, and what policies, if any, might be considered to bring about such a union?

There are several reasons why larger metropolitan areas are generally leading U.S. economic growth. In recent decades, larger metropolitan areas have typically become more specialized in managerial and technical occupations, while smaller metropolitan economies have become more specialized in production activities. For example, one recent article found that those U.S. metropolitan areas having a population above 5 million had increased their concentration of management to production workers to 39 percent by 1990 from 10 percent in 1950. In part, this increasing concentration in larger cities is due to advances in communication and transportation that have allowed companies and organizations to administer and manage from a central location or to travel easily to multiple production locations.

In this light, it is understandable, then, that larger cities have also tended to grow more rapidly in terms of income and/or population. That is because specialized professional and managerial occupations tend to pay more than production. Moreover, since at least the late 1970s in the U.S., economic returns to labor, including wages and salaries, have generally been growing faster for managerial, technical, and other occupations attendant to higher educational attainment.

A second reason for such shifting specialization and growth owes much to the growth in work force participation of women. In the U.S., the labor force participation of working age women rose from 37.7 in 1960 to almost 59.6 percent today. Moreover, the educational attainment of women has also been rising such that it now exceeds men among the younger age cohorts. Since young singles tend to marry someone with similar education, this has given rise to growing numbers of “power couples” who often must find not one, but two, specialized jobs in the same labor market. Because large metropolitan areas have both deep labor markets and more specialized occupational opportunities, these places have become magnets for such “power couples.” In turn, firms respond to the greater labor supply of professionals by siting their establishments in larger metropolitan areas, and thereby transform local economies.

There are several reasons to keep an eye on the greater Chicago and Milwaukee areas to examine the prospects that they will someday become a single labor market and benefit from the attendant economies of larger scale and scope of such a merger. The Chicago and Milwaukee areas are only 86 miles apart, as measured from city center to city center. The Chicago metro area is more populous at 9.4 million as compared to 1.5 million in Milwaukee, but together they yield a population of 11.0 million.

Historically, Chicago–Milwaukee work force linkages have been limited. Only 13,000 Milwaukee residents commute to Chicago, daily, as of year 2000, up from 1,600 in year 1990. The reverse commute is even smaller. However, commuting in both directions is growing rapidly.

Click to enlarge.

Still, a closer look at some important subsectors of professional industry workers is suggestive of the greater work force that may soon arise from combination. The chart below combines industry employment for Chicago and Milwaukee metro areas across several professional, management and business service sectors. As combined, for example, employment in the Chicago–Milwaukee “computer systems design” sector would rank second to New York, allowing Chicago to bypass both the San Francisco and the Los Angeles metro areas. Other sectors of mutual benefit in Chicago and Milwaukee can be seen at the Midwest Economy website.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

While such stronger within-industry labor markets might be advantageous, the additional attraction across multiple sectors may be greater still. For households with members having differing but specialized occupations, the possibilities for a multiple match of people with jobs in a combined Chicago–Milwaukee metro area labor pool could be great. This would enhance companies’ ability to attract and retain skilled labor in both regions.

So too, not all jobs within the professional and business services sectors require the very highest educational attainment. For example, according to recent estimates of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, office and administrative support jobs comprise one-third of all employment in the combined professional services, finance, and management of companies when measured in industry sectors. So too, spin-off employment would also generate a wide range of local employment as the spending of added service professionals ripples through the local economy. This feature is especially important since job needs are great for lesser-skilled labor in both markets.

How might Chicago and Milwaukee push along their destiny as a combined metropolitan area? One low-cost way is to publicize their mutual proximity in marketing each region to prospective employers and to job recruits. Both Chicago and Milwaukee are highly active in economic development marketing. Of course, private sector employers and employment intermediaries may also be effective in spreading such information about the greater breadth of employment opportunities.

Another policy avenue may be greater investment in transportation between the metro areas that would facilitate commuting flows. Both interstate highways and train transportation are now in service. The possible labor market advantages of easier and more dependable auto and passenger train travel might weigh significantly in the consideration of any future roadway/rail expansion and maintenance decisions. Combined efforts in applying for federal transportation grant monies to serve a large and more closely-integrated Chicago–Milwaukee market might also be effective—for both personal travel and for freight transportation including railroad.

Milwaukee’s major airport is also located between downtown Milwaukee and downtown Chicago. At a time when the Chicago area’s air travel capacity is strained, better access to Milwaukee’s Mitchell field could be advantageous.

Other cooperative ventures and ideas have yet to be identified. The absence of organized efforts to do so is a bit puzzling in the Chicago–Milwaukee corridor. In contrast, the advent of the trade agreements between Canada and the U.S. has sparked any number of private and private-public associations to promote natural trade flows across the border within local corridors. As the chart below shows, the progress of employment growth has not been especially robust in either metropolitan area over the past 15 years. Perhaps a little détente along the Illinois-Wisconsin border might be advantageous to all.

Click to enlarge.