Despite adding 16,500 jobs in May, metro Milwaukee employment is down nearly 100,000

Economic indicators

Metro Milwaukee employment increased 16,500 from April to May, but the region’s total employment is still down by 99,800 from May 2019, according to recently released data.

Total nonfarm payrolls in the region, which includes Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties, dropped more than 111,000 from March to April as the coronavirus and the response to it led to massive job cuts and layoffs.

Job numbers for May have shown an increase at the national and state levels, a trend that has continued at the local level with a 2.2% increase from April to May.

Fond du Lac saw the largest jump in employment last month, increasing 4.5%, followed by Wausau, which was up 4.4%.

The Oshkosh-Neenah area and the Madison metro area also outpaced Milwaukee with 2.5% and 2.4% gains respectively.

Not all metro areas gained jobs in May. The La Crosse-Onalaska area decreased 0.2% and Janesville Beloit dropped 1.2%.

Despite the positive numbers, Wisconsin metro areas are still far from returning to pre-pandemic employment levels.

Racine is the closest with employment down 8.2% from last year and Wausau is down 9.9%.

Milwaukee ranks fifth in the state among metro areas with an 11.4% decrease from May 2019. Madison is down 13.9%.

La Crosse and Janesville are in the worst shape with both down 15.3%.

It is unclear how much of the reopening of Wisconsin’s economy is captured in the May data. The survey used to collect the monthly figures is done in the week with the 12th of the month. For May, that same week is when the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer-at-Home” order.

The number of continuing unemployment claims filed in Wisconsin has been trending down in recent weeks.

In southeastern Wisconsin, the average number of continuing claims for the last four weeks has fallen more than 18% in most counties compared to the four-week period covering late April and early May.

Milwaukee County’s number of continuing claims is down 5.8% while Sheboygan is down 25.4%, Walworth is down 23.7% and Washington is down 20.5%.

Statewide, the number of initial new claims has leveled off around 25,000 for the last four weeks, a figure that is still four- to five-times the same time last year.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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