Wisconsin’s economic recovery from COVID-19 continued in May with the state adding 2,200 jobs. We have come a long way out of the massive jobs hole created in March 2020. Job growth has been steady since February, and these jobs are a welcome addition. Even so, the state has 2.1% 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.
Unemployment increased ever so slightly to 2.9% from the last couple of month’s post-pandemic record low of 2.8%. Wisconsinites are as likely to be working as they were before March 2020. Wisconsin employment hit a record high in May: 3,059,300 workers. Currently, Wisconsin’s 66.5% labor force participation rate exceeded the national 62.3%.
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 May 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, and since then, has had steady growth. This industry remains 4.3% below pre-COVID-19 employment levels.
Continuing the previous two month’s trend, some sectors have fallen behind Leisure and Hospitality; namely, Education and Health Services (4.9% below pre-COVID levels,), Government (5.3% below pre-COVID levels), and State and Local Government (5.6% below pre-COVID levels). Some sectors have fared better, however. The Construction Sector and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities sector have both recovered to slightly above pre-pandemic employment levels. Manufacturing is just barely below pre-pandemic employment. Manufacturing is just barely below pre-pandemic employment (down 0.7%).
“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.