Latest job numbers show Wisconsin’s labor market improving, but long ways from recovery

After shedding more than nearly 400,000 jobs in April, Wisconsin’s labor market rebounded in April by adding 72,100 jobs, according to new data released today by the Department of Workforce Development.

Dennis Winters, chief economist at DWD, said the gains were generally spread across industries and geographies.

The leisure and hospitality sector, hit particularly hard by coronavirus related shutdowns, had the strongest gains, adding 27,500 jobs for a 22.6% increase. Similarly, nondurable goods manufacturing added 11,700 jobs, an increase of 6.5% and retail trade added 11,300 positions, a 4.5% increase.

Winters said the positive national jobs numbers released earlier this month gave an indication the state’s monthly jobs report would show gains, but the report was still a nice surprise.

Still, Wisconsin is far from fully recovered from the job losses experienced since late March. Private sector employment is still down 338,100 from last year, including a decline of 135,400 jobs in leisure and hospitality and 35,000 in retail.

Even if the state kept up the pace of job gains it saw from April to May, a 3.3% increase, it would take until October to reach the pre-pandemic job total from March. Sustaining that level of growth might prove difficult. The best month-to-month job gains the state saw in the aftermath of the Great Recession was 0.5%.

It is unclear exactly how much of Wisconsin’s reopening was captured in the May data. The survey used to generate it is conducted in the week of the 12th. That same week in May is when the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer-at-Home” order limiting business operations for retail stores, restaurants and other industries.

The number of continuing unemployment claims has continued to come down from 291,677 the week the May data was collected to 238,543 for the week ending June 6. The number of new claims, however, has leveled off around 25,000 for the last three weeks after declining for nine straight weeks.

There are other potentially troubling signs for the recovery as well. Employment in durable goods manufacturing, which accounts for nearly 12% of private sector employment in the state, is down 27,800 from last year and lost 2,300 jobs from April to May.

The state also saw a number of significant mass layoffs in May and June and some worry there could be an uptick in job cuts when Paycheck Protection Program loans run out later this year.

BRP, the Canadian parent company of Evinrude, said it would stop making outboard engines to focus on its boat business. The company said it would lay off 363 people in Sturtevant while pledging to repurpose its plant.

Sheboygan-based sock maker Wigwam Mills said it would cut 121 jobs amid uncertainty about how and when retail customers would return. The company plans to continue some production in the state but is looking for partners elsewhere in the U.S.

Renaissance Manufacturing Group said it would cut 120 jobs as it shuts down its Waukesha foundry after finding a buyer for its book of business.

Verso Corp. said it would lay off 902 employees after indefinitely idling its paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids.

Derse Inc., which builds trade show displays, said it would temporarily lay off 87 employees.

Painting supplies maker Shur-Line said it would cut 93 positions in St. Francis, closing a plant as it sells its book of business.

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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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