La Crosse County
With an estimate of 122,126 residents in 2022, La Crosse County is the 12th most populated county in Wisconsin and the most populated county in the western side of the state. The county’s population grew at a faster than average rate in the first two years of this decade. The county gained 1,342 residents, equivalent to 1.1% of its population. By comparison, Wisconsin experienced population growth of 0.9% and the United States experienced population growth of 0.3% over the same period. Of the county’s 10 most populous municipalities, the Village of Holmen gained the most residents (899), while the City of La Crosse lost the most residents (-520).
In April of 2020, La Crosse County’s unemployment rate climbed 9.8 percentage points, resulting in a peak rate of 12.8%, significantly higher than the rates following the 2008 financial crisis. In December 2021, nearly two years after this initial spike, the unemployment rate fell to a historic low of 1.8%. However, high inflation has disrupted the rapid economic recovery. In June 2022, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers increased 9.1% year-over-year, the largest increase in 40 years. The economy began to slow down as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to tackle inflation. Despite this challenge, industries remain resilient. The unemployment rate set a new low of 1.8% in December 2022.
Employment Change by Industry
In La Crosse County, leisure and hospitality industry suffered the greatest numerical loss in 2020 because of the pandemic. The industry saw a rebound in 2021, registered the second highest numeric growth in the county of 459 jobs. Yet, employment number is still 1,124 below the 2019 level. On the other hand, the strong growth number in manufacturing industry is encouraging. The industry gained 461 jobs over the year, a change of 6%. The industry surpassed the 2019 employment number by 171. In contrast, the manufacturing industry in the state grew roughly 1.6% during the same time frame.
Employment opportunities in the county concentrate in the La Crosse – Onalaska Metropolitan area. 11% of residents travel outside of the county for work, and 7.7% of those that work in the county reside in another county. The La Crosse MTU system provides bus service covering the city of La Crosse and Onalaska, and the Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit System offers connections to surrounding counties. Yet, 87.4% of employed county residents rely on a car to get to work. Over three quarters drive alone. The average commute time is 18.6 minutes. Car-centered infrastructure leads to a difficult conundrum: qualified individuals could fill a job if they had transportation and could afford transportation if they had a job. Some employers address this issue by offering telecommuting options and transportation reimbursements.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the state has a shortage of more than 120,000 rental units. Owner-occupied housing is in short supply in many communities as well. Like the state, construction of new homes in the county had slowed down significantly after the housing bubble burst in 2008. La Crosse County will likely continue to attract new residents as the county has registered population growth in every census since 1860. Therefore, demand in the county will remain high for homes. A direct way to increase quality and affordable housing stock is to incentivize the creation of new multi-family units, which requires loosened zoning regulation. Stabilizing existing neighborhoods is also important. This includes providing more funds and loans for replacement housing, and housing rehabilitation.
In La Crosse County, the monthly cost of care ranges from $847 for an infant to $669 for a school age child. To put this cost in perspective, a household
with median earnings in La Crosse County would need to pay 16% of their earnings on infant care. Childcare availability is less of a barrier to employment compared to cost in La Crosse County. The county has a higher-than-average capacity per child.
According to the YoungStar provider database, which tracks approximately 82% of providers in the state, there are 85 total providers with a potential capacity of 2,746 in La Crosse County. There are 16 child-care slots for every 100 children under the age of 14 in La Crosse County compared
to 14 statewide. Additionally, even families that have childcare struggle with childcare disruptions. Easing the cost and access
burden would help more parents enter or participate more fully in the labor market. Employers could also help improve participation by providing flexibility to parents with childcare responsibilities.