“It’s mostly about jobs. Dane County fell less than the state and the nation in the last recession and then grew faster during the recovery,” Scaglione said. “Dane County has already reached the pre-recession peak job level.”
While the employment peak matches the rate before the recession, Scaglione said the unemployment level is still more than one percentage point higher than it was when the economy was strong, which is a result of the larger labor force.
The focus on service sectors rather than manufacturing jobs in Madison and Dane County is a large part of the low rate, Scaglione said. Dane County has 7.6 percent of its jobs in manufacturing, as opposed to 16.8 percent statewide.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the overall unemployment rate is a positive statistic for the county. The presence of the state government and the university in the county, along with a strong agricultural sector, all contributed to the low rate, he said.
However, he said there are still some population disparities that continue to raise concern.
“When looking at the rate, that’s a positive thing, but I think it’s also important to realize that the overall employment rate is low. But within those numbers, we still have some unacceptable disparities among who is working and who is not,” Parisi said.
Parisi said the rate of employment among black people in Dane County is only 25 percent, and many people in the skilled trades are having trouble finding jobs.
While the county can be happy about the low unemployment, he said initiatives need to continue to improve the ease by which people can find jobs through programs like Project Big Step.
Both Parisi and Scaglione said the presence of the university and Epic Systems make a difference in the work force statistics. Epic’s high employment numbers and the entrepreneurs that leave the company make a large contribution to Dane County’s economy, Parisi said.
Two big focuses for continuing Dane County’s low rate are making the communities as livable as possible and improving education within the communities, he said.
“Many people today aren’t necessarily looking for a job, they’re looking for a place to live and they’re looking for a community that’s going to be comfortable,” Parisi said. “We’re looking to make Dane County as welcoming as possible.”