Public Policy Forum Blog

PPF's top research findings of 2010

The Forum recently received a communication from a national research group detailing its top five findings this year. That got us to thinking about our top five research findings of 2010. The competition was stiff, but here they are, in chronological order (drum roll please):

  1. Southeast Wisconsin's skilled workforce may be its greatest economic strength. Our March Innovation Index report benchmarked our region with three Midwestern peers and three innovation leaders using several indicators linked to success in building a knowledge-based economy. While the overall assessment was mixed, we found southeast Wisconsin was number one among the group in its percentage of residents working in middle-skill jobs, i.e. those that require specialized training or education beyond a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. The finding suggests that while our region may be lacking in college graduates, we still possess the type of workforce that should be very attractive to certain industries.
  2. Milwaukee County's structural deficit is really, really daunting. In our July preview of the county's 2011 budget, we used the county's fiscal forecasting tool to determine how its five-year fiscal outlook would change under two relatively dramatic scenarios: 1) the property tax increased at double the projected growth rate, or 6.6% per year, for each of the next five years; or 2) projected growth in salaries and fringe benefits was reduced by 50% and 25% respectively in each of the next five years. We found that in both cases, the projected structural deficit in 2016 still would be in the range of $65 to $70 million. Quite a challenge, indeed, for the next county executive.
  3. MATC clearly spends more than its peers. Our September fiscal assessment of the Milwaukee Area Technical College found an institution struggling to accommodate shrinking revenue streams at the very time that demand for its services had reached historic highs. While plummeting property tax capacity and shrinking state revenues certainly hurt, however, it appears there is capacity to make adjustments to the expenditure side of MATC's ledger. Our research compared MATC with 84 other large two-year technical and community colleges nationally with regard to total operating expenses, salary expenditures and fringe benefit expenditures. We found that MATC ranks number one in expenditures per full-time-equivalent student on each of those measures.
  4. Milwaukee County's mental health system is out of balance. Our October report on mental health care for adults in Milwaukee County - released jointly with the Human Services Research Institute - found a system that is out of sync with national trends and best practices in light of its emphasis on inpatient care and its lack of comprehensive community-based services. Particularly telling was a finding that the county's 472 public and private acute inpatient beds are nearly triple the number that would be expected in a mature mental health system that contains the appropriate balance of inpatient, crisis and community-based services.
  5. The state's expensive child care subsidy program has grown as household incomes have shrunk. When the state created the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program in 1996, all low-income families became eligible, not just former welfare recipients. Participation has grown nearly 350% since then, in part because of a decline in household incomes. Whereas the program's eligibility limit of 185% of federal poverty line represented 57% of the state median income in 1999, today it equals 68%. As we point out in a December report, this trend does not bode well for the state’s new child care quality ratings system initiative, as a continued decline in household incomes may mean continued growth in program enrollment. That, in turn, could translate into less money available to offer incentives to providers for quality improvements.

Narrowing the list to five wasn't easy. We were forced to leave out additional key findings from reports on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the region's public schools, regional property values and taxes, the City of Milwaukee's Main Street Milwaukee program, and three People Speak surveys, among others. Each of the 20 reports the Forum has published so far this year can be accessed here.

Rob Henken