Wisconsin’s economic recovery from COVID-19 continued in December with the state adding 6,300 jobs. We have come a long way out of the massive jobs hole created in March 2020. Job growth has not been steady and consistent, so it is good to see these additional jobs. Even so, the state has 3.3% fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic.
Federal investments in recovery continue to support Wisconsin’s families and children. But some of the programs that support the most vulnerable—expanded Unemployment Insurance (UI), eviction moratoriums, etc.—have ended. Critically, the Child Tax Credit ended this month, leaving families vulnerable in the depth of winter.
Unemployment fell this month to a record low of 2.8%, and Wisconsinites are as likely to be working as they were before March 2020. Wisconsin’s 66.4% labor force participation rate in December 2021 far exceeded the national 61.9%.
The Leisure and Hospitality Industry— restaurants, bars, hotels—has been the hardest hit.
Even before the collapse, the industry’s workforce of waitstaff, bartenders, dishwashers, housekeepers, and others suffered low-wages, volatile and unpredictable hours, and few benefits. Workers in this industry—more likely to be women and people of color—suffered the greatest dislocation.
In April 2020, at the depth of the crisis, more than half of the workers in this industry lost their jobs. The industry has been moving slowly out of that hole since collapse, though there has been a lot of volatility within the sector. After growth in November 2021, the industry added lost jobs in December. This industry remains 10% below pre-COVID-19 employment levels.
Some sectors have fared better. The state’s manufacturing and construction sectors have recovered to pre-pandemic employment levels. Other sectors are down just slightly – Professional and Business Services (down 0.4%), and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (down 0.6%).
“When will we back to normal?”
While the economy continues to move towards the levels posted before the crisis, “normal” was unsustainable for too many low-wage families before the pandemic. Working Wisconsin needs a new normal for our low-wage service jobs, with better wages, more predictable schedules, and stronger benefits. The low unemployment rate likely provides workers more leverage to secure higher wages and more hours of work in many sectors, but stronger public policy can help make these changes sustainable. Strong public health, accessible health insurance, and affordable and high-quality care for kids (with decently paid providers) are ways that the state can help workers stay on the job in the ever changing context of this global pandemic.