Record breaking labor market builds workers’ power.
With Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dipping to historic lows and the number of jobs and workers reaching historic highs, Wisconsin’s labor market has had a record breaking year. Over the past 12 months, the state added 39,500 jobs to reach the record high of 3,007,200 jobs in July. In the same time, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate, currently 2.6%, has hovered around or below 3% and posted record lows in April and May (2.4%).
These record setting levels are consistent evidence of a strong economy and good news for workers. Sustained job growth and low unemployment rates increase workers’ bargaining power. Workers can leverage abundant opportunities by leaving their jobs for better opportunities or using the credible threat of leaving to secure improvements in the jobs they hold.
Opportunity is not distributed equally across population and geography in the state. Racial disparity in the state remains substantial and gravely concerning, but sustained economic growth is also helping to narrow the racial and ethnic gaps. For example, over the last year in Wisconsin, white unemployment (2.4%) held steady while Black unemployment fell from 5.8% to 4.7%.
Workers have responded. Wisconsin continues to have a relatively high labor force participation rate (65.5% in Wisconsin compared to 62.6% for the US). Engagement with work is above national levels for both women and men in the state, but Wisconsin’s womens’ relative advantage over the national rate appears to be shrinking. The state’s decreasing investment in child care is likely to further challenge working women in this state.