Wisconsin added 9,300 jobs in April, unemployment and labor force up slightly

Economic indicators

Wisconsin added a total of 9,300 nonfarm jobs in April, including 8,200 in the private sector and the state’s unemployment and labor force participation rates both increased slightly, according to data released by the Department of Workforce Development on Thursday.

The job growth puts the state 267,300 jobs ahead of where it was in April 2020, the first month of job data to show the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to March 2020, the state is still down 121,500 jobs.

At the same time, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate ticked up slightly from 3.8% in March to 3.9% in April.

The unemployment rate and the job growth figures come from two separate surveys done by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The former is from a survey of households while the latter comes from a survey of businesses.

The household survey also showed a slight increase in Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate, which came in at 65.9%, up 0.2 percentage points from March. It is the same labor force participation rate as March 2020.

The rate dipped as low as 65.5% in June of last year and largely stayed there through January. It has slowly increased since the start of the year.

Longer term, the labor force participation rate has been trending down. The most recent peak in its annual average was at 68.1% in 2016, since then it has dropped each year. In 2019, the state averaged a participation rate of 66.8%.

The return of some workers to the labor force comes as many businesses have been lamenting their inability to find workers. Many have attributed those challenges to federal stimulus and enhanced unemployment benefits. Others have countered that workers are hesitant to return to jobs amid the pandemic or that employers need to pay more.

Wisconsin Republicans introduced legislation this week to end the additional $300 in weekly unemployment benefits offered by the federal government and voted to reinstate a work search requirement for those receiving unemployment.

April’s job data shows a mixed picture in terms of which industries are adding jobs. Construction had one of the best months, adding 2,900 jobs compared to March. Leisure and hospitality added 3,800, but remains around 42,500 jobs behind its pre-pandemic level.

Employment in most other industries, including manufacturing, trade, transportation, information financial activities, business services and health and education was essentially flat in April.

Across the private sector in Wisconsin, the average hourly wage was $27.83 in March. Data for April is not available yet. For the first quarter, wages averaged a 2.4% year-over-year increase.

The construction sector, in particular, has seen strong wage gains, averaging an increase of 8.8% in the first quarter and coming in at $34.21 in March.

Manufacturing wages were down year-over-year for each of the first three months of the year, averaging a 0.7% decrease for the quarter.

Average hourly wages for production workers, however, have increased slightly, about 8 cents or 0.35% on average for the first quarter. Total weekly hours for production workers were up nearly 2 hours per week from last year to 42 in March.

In leisure and hospitality, the average hourly wage in March was $16.13 in Wisconsin, a 2.8% increase from March 2020. For the first quarter, the sector averaged a 1.9% increase.

While the sector’s hourly rate is ahead of the $15 minimum wage many Democrats have advocated for, the average weekly wage in the sector was $350.02 in March. That figure is up 9.4% from March 2020.

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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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