COVID-19 shuttered the economy in March 2020.

Jobs  plummeted. Unemployment skyrocketed.

The recovery has been uneven. Key data below show how we are doing (all relative to February 2020).

In part one of four, we’re discussing the jobs outlook for working people for Labor Day 2021: how many we have, who has them, and who doesn’t. Read on.

Note: The below data was released as part of the State of Working Wisconsin for Labor Day 2021. We continue to update the state’s job outlook every month – view Monthly Job Watch here.

At a Glance


Jobs Lost

In July 2021, Wisconsin had 3.8% fewer jobs than before the COVID-19 crisis hit.



In July 2021, unemployment held steady at 3.9%, remaining slightly above the February 2020 level (3.5%).


Leisure/Hospitality Jobs Lost

This sector – restaurants, hotels, and more – has been hardest hit; employment is down 17.6%.

July 2021 Data Analysis

In March 2020, the US took dramatic steps to stop the spread of COVID-19.

States issued stay-at-home orders, the economy contracted dramatically, jobs plummeted, and unemployment spiked. After the collapse, the economy improved rapidly in early summer 2020. In fall and winter, the recovery sputtered, but in spring 2021 the recovery became stronger and more consistent.

There are now reasons for optimism about the trajectory of the economy. In June, Wisconsin added more than 13,000 jobs. Vaccinations are widely available. Federal investments in recovery are supporting families and children. Still, the delta variant is on the rise in Wisconsin, and some of the programs that support the most vulnerable – expanded UI, eviction moratoriums, etc.— are coming to an end. For working Wisconsin, there’s no crystal ball about where we’ll be in a few months.

Explore the Data

Leisure and Hospitality Industry Hardest Hit: Down 49,600 Jobs

The Leisure and Hospitality Industry — restaurants, bars, hotels, etc. – has been the hardest hit in the COVID-19 economic crisis.

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 dislocation of the crisis. 

In April 2020, at the depth of the crisis, more than half of workers in this industry lost their jobs. The industry has been moving slowly out of that hole since collapse, though there has been volatility in the sector with months of loss and growth across the fall and winter. The industry remains 17.6% below pre-COVID-19 employment levels. 

Some sectors have lost very few jobs: Professional and Business Services, and Trade, Transportation, and Utilities, and Manufacturing are all down by less than 1%. 


Since the March 2020 COVID-19 economic collapse, the question has been “when will we back to normal?”

The economy continues to move towards the levels posted before the crisis. So normal is, perhaps, on the horizon. But “normal” for low-wage workers was unsustainable, leaving too many families struggling to get by. It is too early to know what the new ‘normal’ will be, but it is easy to identify what the new normal should hold. Working Wisconsin needs a new normal for our low-wage service jobs, with better wages, more predictable schedules, and stronger benefits. Working Wisconsin also needs a new normal with strong public health, accessible health insurance, and affordable and high-quality care for kids (with decently paid providers). These are the directions that could help solve problems so consistently documented in the State of Working Wisconsin.  

For more than two decades, the State of Working Wisconsin has presented the workers’ perspective on the economy in the state. For previous years’ State of Working Wisconsin reports, go here.

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