Trempealeau County is the 30th least populated county among Wisconsin’s 72 counties. With an estimate of 30,884 residents in 2022, the county’s population has continued its steady growth in the first two years of this decade. The county gained 124 residents, equivalent to 0.4% of its population. By comparison, Wiscon- sin 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 Trempealeau gained the most residents (45), while the City of Blair lost the most residents (-32).
In April of 2020, Trempealeau County’s unemployment rate climbed 14.2 percentage points, resulting in a peak rate of 19%, significantly higher than the rates following the 2008 financial crisis. In November 2021, nearly two years after this initial spike, the unemployment rate fell to a historic low of 2.2%. 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 remained resilient. The unemployment rate remains at a near-historic low of 2.9% in December 2022.
Employment Change by Industry
In Trempealeau County, the manufacturing industry suffered the largest numerical loss in 2020 because of the pandemic. The downward trend slowed in 2021. Employment in the industry decreased by 2.0%, losing 102 jobs during the year. In comparison, the manufacturing industry in the state grew roughly 1.6% during the same time frame. Employment in Trempealeau County’s leisure and hospitality industry experienced strong recovery after suffering the greatest proportional loss in 2020. The industry grew by 14.8%, adding 96 jobs in 2021. It is the fourth largest industry in the county as of 2021.
Trempealeau County is a rural county. There is no local or intercity public transit system available in the county as of 2022. One-third of the residents travel outside of the county for work, and 27.1% of those that work in the county reside in another county. As expected, 87.6% of employed county residents rely on a car to get to work. Over three quarters drive alone. The average commute time is 23 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 and transportation reimbursement.
Trempealeau County has a much lower share of renters allocating more than 30% of income for housing compared to the state. Nonetheless, approximately three out of 10 renters still pay more than 30% of their income on housing. In addition to cost, housing availability is also a challenge in Wisconsin. 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. A direct way to increase the number of quality and affordable homes would be to provide incentives to build new multi-family units, which requires loosening zoning regulation. Stabilizing existing neighborhoods is also important, which includes providing more funds and loans for replacement housing and housing rehabilitation.
Trempealeau County, the monthly cost of care is lower than average, ranging from $685 for an infant to $543 for a school-age child. To put this cost in perspective, a household with median earnings in Trempealeau County would need to pay 13% of its earnings on infant care. Childcare availability is also a barrier to employment for Wisconsin families. According to the YoungStar provider database, there are 18 total providers with a potential capacity of 492 in Trempealeau County. This database tracks approximately 82% of providers in the state. The county has a lower capacity when compared to the state. There are eight childcare slots for every 100 children under the age of 14 in Trempealeau County compared to 14 statewide. Additionally, even families that have childcare struggle with 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.