Wisconsin’s Most Puzzling Challenge: Demography

November 2011


Once every 10 years the U.S. census provides new information on population and socioeconomic changes. This information often goes unnoticed by the public, but it can be useful to states, localities, and businesses as they plan for the long term.

  • Wisconsin’s population increased 6.0% during 2000-10, less than the national average (9.7%).
  • The state’s minority population rose from 11.1% in 2000 to 13.8% in 2010.
  • Badger State residents with a bachelor’s degree earned nearly 63% more than those with only a high school degree.

About 86% of Wisconsin residents lived in the same home in 2010 as they did in 2009.
State political leaders devote considerable time and energy to discussing jobs, schools, state finances, and health care. All are pressing problems that are well known and understood. Ironically, Wisconsin faces another problem that is probably more serious and difficult to solve. Even though it can only exacerbate our other challenges, it goes largely unnoticed by both public officials and the press. Researchers call it demography. We know it on a more personal level: aging parents, greater need for public services, shrinking school populations, and eventually, fewer workers, less economic activity, and stagnating tax revenues.
What do these trends mean for Wisconsin? On the one hand, the economy and state tax collections could grow more slowly than in the past. On the other, the costs of providing public services to senior citizens could climb, while student—and eventually taxpayer—numbers, decline.
If public decision makers and the citizens they serve are to respond to these unavoidable trends, they must first understand them. Recently released results of the nation’s 2010 census make that possible.