Wisconsin’s economic recovery from COVID-19 continued in February with the state adding 18,600 jobs. Even with this growth, the state has 77,300 fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic – almost exactly 2 years ago. While this is overall good news, several federal programs—like the Child Tax Credit, eviction moratoriums, and more—have ended.
Unemployment remains quite low, at 2.9% in February 2022.
Further, Wisconsin’s labor force participation and total labor force are actually at higher levels than before the pandemic.
In February 2022, Wisconsin’s labor force totaled 3.14 million. This was 40,000 workers more than before the pandemic in February 2020, providing 1.3% growth in our labor force. Further, Wisconsinites were slightly more likely to be working in February 2022 than they were before the pandemic (labor force participation in Wisconsin was 66.4% in February 2022 compared to 66.1% in February 2020). Wisconsin is one of just five states where labor force participation is higher now than before the pandemic.
The Leisure/Hospitality Industry is now closer to pre-pandemic levels than some other sectors.
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, more than half of the workers in this industry lost their jobs. The industry has been moving slowly out of that hole since collapse. Despite growth in February, this industry remains 4.2% below pre-COVID-19 employment levels.
For the first time since the pandemic began, other sectors are further behind. Education and health services, government, and state and local government all remain more than 5% pre-pandemic employment levels. Some sectors have fared better. Construction has recovered, and manufacturing is only slightly below pre-pandemic levels (down 0.1%).
Low-wage workers need a new ‘normal’.
While the economy continues to recover, “normal” was unsustainable for too many low-wage families before the pandemic.
Working Wisconsin needs a new normal, 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.