Wisconsin’s economic recovery from COVID-19 continued in March with the state adding 1,000 jobs – albeit at a significantly slower rate than last month. We have come a long way out of the massive jobs hole created in March 2020. Even so, the state has 2.3% 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 in 2022, leaving families vulnerable.
Unemployment fell last month to a record low of 2.8%, which has stayed constant through this month, and Wisconsinites are as likely to be working as they were before the March 2020. Wisconsin’s current 66.5% labor force participation rate exceeds the national 62.4%
The Leisure and Hospitality Industry— restaurants, bars, hotels, etc.—has been hard hit, but with recent growth it is 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, 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, but there has been steady growth since January. This industry remains 4.7% below pre-COVID-19 employment levels.
Last month, for the first time since the pandemic began, other sectors have fallen behind, and this month has seen that trend continued. Education and health services, government, and state and local government are all more than 5% below their pre-pandemic employment levels. Some sectors have fared better. The state’s manufacturing and construction sectors have recovered to pre-pandemic employment levels, with construction enjoying nearly 3% growth above pre-pandemic levels. Other sectors are down just slightly – Professional and Business Services (down 0.7%), and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (down 0.8%).
“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.