The Wisconsin Budget Battle and our decision to move to another state
By Kathy K on February 26, 2011
The current budget crisis and union protests in Wisconsin have put me in a reflective mood lately. And I'd also be lying if I said that the current situation down in Madison did not have some factor in our decision to move to another state.
My husband and I made the decision to pack up and move from Wisconsin to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for several reasons. One of them being the job market.
Budget crisis aside, the job market in Wisconsin is not very good, no matter how people try to spin things. The good paying manufacturing jobs have gone to either non-union, right to work states or overseas. Jobs that are comparable in pay to the old jobs require a degree. In other words, the person who got into the mill right out of high school and has worked at the same job for many, many years has to settle for something that pays a lot less than what they were earning.
I am not going to get into union wages vs. non-union wages debates or debates about unions in general. That's for another time. The reality is that the good paying blue collar jobs are leaving Wisconsin and there are no new ones coming in to replace them. Many of these displaced workers do get the option of returning to school with the state of Wisconsin picking up 100% of the tab. But if these same people were not returning to school on the State of Wisconsin's dime, would they be going to school at all? Most likely no.
Schooling leads to something else: degree snobbery. My husband has run into this quite a bit up here. If you are looking for a job, a degree is more important than actual work experience. But then at the same time, your degree is never good enough. My husband earned an Associate's degree in computer science, but that will not get him a good job. Why? Because employers want people with Bachelor's degrees for entry level work and the people who make the hiring decisions all have college degrees. All of the job requirements listed in a help wanted ad were things that my husband learned in technical college. Technical college is more hands on than a four year college. But does this matter to the hiring manager? No. Why? Because my husband didn't go to a four year college and get a bachelor's degree.
About a year and a half ago, my husband received a lay off notice. He worked in the IT department doing in-house phone support at a local distribution company. A new IT manager came in and he decided that my husband's job could be outsourced to a call center in another state. We had some time to buy and my husband started looking for another job. The plan was to have one in place before his severance period was over so he wouldn't have to draw unemployment. All he could find was a job in a call center where the working conditions were less than desirable and they treat their workers like little kids. He had to take a substantial pay cut. Morale is low and turnover is high there. My husband has been looking to get out of this place for about a year now. Because my husband's degree is not good enough for hiring managers, he is stuck there. He has said several times that he regrets taking this job because we would have been better off financially if he collected unemployment.
Because he was trapped in a bad job, I was also trapped in a job I wanted to get out of. I was experiencing burn out that was so severe, I began having panic attacks about going to work and I ended up taking 8 weeks medical leave while trying to deal with my panic disorder. I was “trapped” in my job because I was the one who carried the health insurance. Because my husband took a pay cut, I was limited in the jobs I could take because I really couldn't afford to take a pay cut. I was with my employer for ten years, and if I started over, a pay cut was a given. The issue was how much of a pay cut I could afford to take. Over the course of ten years at my job, I started at the bottom and I worked my way up a bit and I gained quite a bit of on-the-job experience. I have a technical diploma from the local technical college in accounting. I am in the same boat as my husband. There are jobs I am qualified to do with my own on-the-job experience, but again, my degree is not good enough and my experience doesn't matter. I would love to go back to school to further my education, but school is expensive. My job makes it impossible to have the time to even devote to one course. With the pay cut my husband had to take, school is now out of the question.
I can only speculate as to why such degree snobbery exists. One theory I have is that it's a product of the “us vs. them” mindset of unions and management that seems to be ingrained in a lot of people. White collar office jobs are considered “management”. Many of the workers on the floor and in the unions don't have much education beyond a high school diploma and the jobs they do, in the opinion of “management” doesn't require a lot of intelligence to perform. Therefore, someone without a bachelor's degree does not possess the intellect to perform a white collar job, regardless of previous experience.
Being a part of the Rust Belt, Wisconsin's economic lifeblood is manufacturing. With manufacturing leaving, things are in turmoil. People need to realize that change is afoot and adapt to it. Unions need to change the way they do things if they wish to survive. Management also needs to get off their high horses and recognize intellect and actual work experience along with education and be willing to work with someone who may not have the piece of paper but has the potential to become a valuable asset to their company. Human Resources needs to mine these diamonds in the rough and companies have to be willing to invest the time into polishing up these diamonds. If they would take the time and resources to do this, they will be rewarded in the long run.
There is a so-called “brain drain” in Wisconsin for a reason and it's not just taxes, climate, and cost of living. Intelligence, common sense, and vision are innate abilities that can't be taught in any accredited college or university. You either have these things or you don't. A degree simply means that you have completed the required coursework and earned the required amount of credits in order to receive it. The person without the degree who leaves the state to find something better is just as great a loss to Wisconsin as the person with the degree who leaves the state to find something better.
Which brings me back to this the current situation in Wisconsin. I feel that the Republicans are trying to cut off their noses to spite the Democrats' faces and are not looking beyond the immediate future or their own petty need to be right. Fiscal responsibility means that you don't spend more than what you bring in and if you can't pay for it, then don't buy it. But it also means recognizing that if you aren't bringing in enough income after you've cut back as far as you possibly can, you have to find ways to bring in more income. In a regular person's household, that means you either get a second job or you find another job that pays more. In government, it might mean the dreaded “T” word, but it might mean other things, such as investing in the future. Looking ahead and looking at the larger picture is not something Conservatives are known to do.
The current situation is going to have repercussions for years to come regardless of how it turns out. It's going to affect not just the union workers, but eventually all workers. One only has to look at how Milwaukee County is faring to see what may be in store for the entire state of Wisconsin in the future.
This all brings me back to this upcoming move and the decision to do so. South Dakota is a right to work state. This means that you are not forced to join a union as condition of your employment. My husband used to live in a right to work state before he moved to Wisconsin and he had a much easier time finding work there because his actual work experience had as much, if not more weight than his schooling. I've been perusing the employment listings in the Sioux Falls area and I have noticed that some of the same jobs that require a bachelor's degree in Wisconsin, mostly require actual work experience in Sioux Falls. And this is work experience that I have. This factor definitely played into our decision to move there.
There is a part of me that thinks that we are abandoning a sinking ship and another part that feels like I'm betraying the ship so to speak. I was born in Wisconsin and I've lived my entire life in Wisconsin. If you cut me, my blood is equal parts green and gold and cheddar cheese. There are good things here. Our state parks are some of the best in the country. We have an abundance of lakes. People here are friendly. But sometimes, you have to look out for yourself and the well-being of our household trumps loyalty to any one state. This situation is only going to get worse before it gets better, if it gets better at all. It will only get better if the politicians stop towing their respective party lines, act like mature adults, stop this petty bickering, cut out the hypocrisy, buckle down, stop demonizing other people, and do what is in the best interest of the citizens of Wisconsin. Not the Koch brothers, not the unions, not the Tea Party, and not just the people who voted for you. We need to act in the best interest every single citizen of the state of Wisconsin.
I don't see anyone, either in Madison or in Washington, willing to step up and act like an adult. I don't have the time to wait for this to happen, either.
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