Metro Milwaukee manufacturing wages rising even as job growth lags

manufacturing activity

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:10 am

As unemployment rates plummet to unprecedented lows, manufacturers in metro Milwaukee are increasing wages faster and asking employees to work more hours than their counterparts around the state, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

manufacturing activity

At the same time, the region has lagged behind the rest of the state for job growth in manufacturing and the private sector overall. The state averaged a 1.9 percent increase in manufacturing employment for the year and 1.2 percent for the private sector. Metro Milwaukee’s manufacturing sector was up 1.5 percent on average and 0.2 percent for the private sector.

Employers in the area – particularly manufacturers – have complained for years about their challenges in finding qualified workers while also seeking to change perceptions of the industry. Critics have contended employers haven’t been offering high enough wages to attract people to manufacturing.

The metro area, which includes Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties, had an unemployment rate or 2.7 percent in December, down 1.2 percentage points from the same time in 2016. Over the course of 2017 the region’s unemployment rate has been down an average of 0.9 points and the only time it has been lower was at 2.6 percent in December 1996.

With unemployment at or near record lows, employers in the region are pushing wages up for hourly and production employees. That group ended 2017 with an average hourly wage of $23.05, up $1.72 from the same time in 2016. For the year, the average increase was $2.26 or 11.3 percent.

The same group of workers statewide ended the year with an average wage of $20.43 per hour, down 9 cents from 2016. The group averaged a 3.3 percent increase in wages for the year, about 64 cents per hour.

Production workers are also logging more hours, averaging 43.4 in metro Milwaukee in December, compared to 41.4 hours in 2016. For the year, average weekly hours were up about half an hour, but in the last three months of 2017 the increase averaged more than two hours per week.

Statewide, manufacturing employers have followed a similar trend, but not to the same degree. Average weekly hours for December were 41.9, up from 40.6 in 2016. For the year the average increase was 0.2 hours, but the increase was about one additional hour per week in the last three months.

For the year, weekly wages were up about $105 to $928 in metro Milwaukee while the statewide increase was about $30 to $837.

Read more economic data reports on the BizTracker page.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at 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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