Wisconsin’s economic recovery from COVID-19 has cooled somewhat after the steady growth in preceding months. In June the state lost 1,800 jobs. Even so, we have come a long way out of the massive jobs hole created in March 2020. In the last 12 months, Wisconsin has added 45,100 jobs. Our total jobs base is now just 2% lower than it was before the pandemic shutdowns of March 2020.
Unemployment remains at May’s level of 2.9% which is just below the February 2020 level of 3.0%. Wisconsin employment remained above 3 million just slightly lower than the record high posted last month. Wisconsin’s 66.4% labor force participation rate remained well above the national rate of 62.2%.
The Leisure and Hospitality Industry— restaurants, bars, hotels, etc.—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 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 the collapse, though there has been a lot of volatility within the sector. The sector has added more than 18,000 jobs over the last 12 months, but over the last four the sector has posted losses. This sectors is 6.8% below pre-COVID-19 employment levels.
Leisure and hospitality is now the furthest behind but other sectors remain below their February 2020 levels. This includes Education and Health Services (4.6% below pre-COVID levels,), Government (5.2% below), and State and Local Government (5.5% below). 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 (2.1% and 0.9% above pandemic levels, respectively). Manufacturing is just barely below pre-pandemic employment (0.7% below).
“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 with 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.