From the Ashland Daily Press, November 24, 2017 by Linda Jorgenson
Like most of rural America, the last three decades have not been particularly prosperous ones for Ashland and Bayfield counties. In 2017, both counties still struggle to replace “living wage” jobs like those we lost in the paper and wood products industries in the 1990s. With some exceptions, retail, human services, health care, agriculture and the tourism hospitality sectors have not been able to compensate at that $20-30/hour manufacturing level. The median wage in Ashland County is $19/hour and in Bayfield County it is $22/hour, meaning half the families earn less than this amount and half earn more.
We are not alone. Since 2000, the United States has lost five million manufacturing jobs. Some of this loss is due to off shoring, but it is estimated that in reality 80 percent of those jobs have been lost due to automation. The resulting wage decline has been partnered with wage stagnation. Even the Federal Reserve Bank is stumped as to why the current low unemployment rate is not pressuring wages to rise.
The result has been an unacceptable increase in the number of “working poor,” people who work full-time jobs, but whose earnings now fall below the cost of living. The United Way of Wisconsin estimates that a very conservative survival budget for a family of four in Ashland County would require an hourly wage of $25.81/hour, and for Bayfield County it would require $26.87/hour. Factoring out the families and individuals that fall below the Federal Poverty Level (16 percent for Ashland County and 12 percent for Bayfield County), that still leaves 32 percent of Ashland’s population and 24 percent of Bayfield County that meet the definition of working poor.