Bill Clinton was president, the world was bracing for Y2K, Star Wars enthusiasts were lining up to watch The Phantom Menace in the movie theaters, and the Dot Com boom was in full swing.
Wisconsin looked different in 1999. There were about half a million fewer people living in the state in 1999 than there are now, including about 200,000 fewer people living in poverty. There were 26,000 fewer full-time equivalent students attending the University of Wisconsin System.
Despite all the differences between 1999 and 2012, there is one similarity: the number of jobs in the public sector in Wisconsin. The number of jobs in local, state, and federal government in Wisconsin has fallen to its lowest levels since – well, since before the first Apple iPod was released.
In March 2012, Wisconsin had 401,100 jobs in the public sector. That’s 30,000 fewer jobs than at in September 2008 when the number peaked, and about the same number as in December 1999, as shown in the chart below.
The loss of public sector jobs is acting as a brake on Wisconsin’s economic recovery. Wisconsin lost 23,900 jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, by far the worst in the country. Nearly three-quarters of those jobs were lost from the public sector.
A growing state population, more people in poverty, and rising UW enrollment mean new challenges for the public sector. Yet the public sector workforce that addresses those challenges has fallen to 1999 levels. Further downsizing Wisconsin’s public sector could jeopardize our ability to educate our children in public schools, maintain our streets, and keep our communities safe.