Wisconsin has seen strong labor force growth this year, but the jobs picture is murky  

Wisconsin added 6,400 private sector jobs from June to July but the state’s unemployment rate increased slightly to 2.6%, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At the same time, Wisconsin saw its labor force participation rate continue to increase, reaching 65.5%, up two-tenths from June and a full percentage point from January. The increase is the sixth largest in the country this year.

In practical terms, the increase in labor force participation means a seasonally adjusted increase of nearly 57,000 people either working or looking for work in the state. That 1.9% increase in the state’s labor force is the ninth largest increase in the country.

Wisconsin’s July job growth of 6,400 private sector positions represents a 0.25% increase from June, the 12th fastest growth rate in the country. The addition of 7,500 health care and social assistance positions was the primary driver of the growth. The loss of 1,300 jobs in nondurable goods manufacturing and 1,100 in administrative support and waste management services offset the health care gains.

The state also saw a second consecutive month of stronger year-over-year wage growth. The average hourly wage in the state was up 5.4% in July compared to a year earlier. Workers also saw a 5% year-over-year increase in June. The state had seen five-straight months of wage growth of less than 4% to start year.

For the past three months, Wisconsin has averaged a 4.3% increase in wages, which ranks 20th in the country.

The state has also seen slower growth in average weekly wages as workers are putting in fewer hours per week. Across all industries, the average number of hours in July was 33.1 hours per week, down from 33.4 at the same time in 2022.

In manufacturing, the average number of hours has dropped from 40.4 last year to 39.3 in July. The drop isn’t quite as severe for production workers, who went from 40.1 to 39.8. Still, July marked four-straight months with less than 40 hours per week on average for production workers in the state.

Outside of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the last time Wisconsin production workers averaged less than 40 hours for four straight months was in 2009.

While the state has seen strong labor force growth this year, its job growth has lagged. Since January, private sector employment is up by 16,000, according to seasonally adjusted data. The 0.6% increase ranks 27th in the country.

Compared to July 2022, Wisconsin’s private sector employment is up 1.3%, a growth rate that ranks 38th in the country.

Data on the number of jobs and the number of people in the workforce comes from two different surveys, which may explain some of the divergence in the figures. Job figures come from a survey of employers while labor force statistics come from a survey of households.

On the household survey, which is used to calculate the unemployment and labor force participation rates, Wisconsin’s total employment looks much better relative to other states. Since January, total employment is up 2.1%, which ranks 10th in the country.

Compared to July 2022, total employment in the state is up 1.8%, ranking 15th.

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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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