State unemployment rate ties low mark at 3%

Wisconsin economy added 43,500 private sector jobs in 2017

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:08 am

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dropped to 3 percent in December, tying the previous low point reached in 1999, according to data released by the Department of Workforce Development.

December’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was down from 3.2 percent in November and from 4.1 percent at the same time last year. It marked the end of a year in which the state’s unemployment rate dropped sharply over the six months before increasingly slightly and declining again in the final quarter.

The number of people counted as unemployed also declined significantly in December to 95,700, the lowest figure since early 2000.

The major difference between the low unemployment total and rate reached now and those at the turn of the century is the labor force participation rate. Back then, about 72.8 percent of the civilian non-institutional population was in the labor force, compared to 68.9 percent now.

To reach the same levels of workforce participation the state would need almost 180,000 additional people working or looking for work. Labor force participation nationally peaked around the year 2000 and aging baby boomers and economic changes from the Great Recession have contributed to its decline.

Wisconsin did have a strong year in job growth, adding an estimated 43,500 private sector jobs. The increase was led by the addition of 11,500 jobs in the manufacturing sector, a 2.5 percent increase, another 12,500 jobs in leisure and hospitality, a 4.6 percent increase, an increase of 8,800 in professional and business services, up 2.8 percent and 9,600 jobs in trade, transportation, warehousing and utilities, a 1.8 percent increase.

The Badger State wasn’t alone in adding jobs. For the 12 months ending in November the state’s private sector employment was up 1.71 percent. There were 22 other states with larger increases, led by Utah, Texas, Nevada and Florida, all of which were up more than 2.4 percent.

Ranking in the twenties is generally an improvement for Wisconsin, which has been in the thirties in most cases for the last several years. The more detailed Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages showed the state had its worst 12-month period for private sector job growth since 2010 in 2016 but then moved up to 27th in the latest data, which covered through the end of June.

The December data, which comes from surveys of households and employers and is generally less accurate than the QCEW, showed the state’s 12-month private sector job growth improving slightly to 1.73 percent. Additional data for other states will be available Friday.

Wisconsin added an estimated 1,300 private sector jobs from November to December. Gains in transportation and warehousing, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services were offset by losses in nondurable goods manufacturing and trade.

November private sector job gains in Wisconsin were also revised upward from a gain of 2,800 jobs to 4,900.

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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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