Wisconsin’s job growth was in the top 10 in February, but longer term, state still lags nationally

Last updated on March 25th, 2022 at 02:58 pm

Private sector employment in Wisconsin grew 0.8% from January to February, one of the strongest increases on record and the eighth best in the country for the month, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But even with the addition of 20,700 jobs last month, the state is yet to fully recover to its pre-pandemic employment levels and its job growth still lags behind most states on a longer-term basis.

Compared to February 2021, Wisconsin private sector employment is up 63,600, a nearly 2.6% increase that ranks only 45th in the country. Compared to February 2020, Wisonsin payrolls are still down by 50,000, a 1.9% decrease that ranks 31st in the country.

A total of 15 states have fully recovered beyond their February 2020 job levels. Idaho leads the way with a 6.2% increase in private sector employment since just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increase of 40,200 jobs.

One of the issues Wisconsin faces in growing its job totals is the availability of workers. The state’s unemployment rate tied a record low at 2.9% in February and has been less than 4% since July.

The February unemployment rate is tied for the 11th lowest in the country. Nebraska and Utah have the lowest rates at 2.1%.

Wisconsin also has a greater share of its population in the workforce than it did pre-pandemic. The labor force participation rate for February was 66.4%, up from 66.1% in February 2020. Labor force participation has been trending down since the late 1990s, it was 68.6% in February 2012 and 72.6% in February 2002.

The state’s February 2022 labor force participation rate ranked 9th in the country. Seven of the 13 states with unemployment rates at or below 2.9% have worse labor force participation rates. Nebraska has the best labor force participation rate among states at 69.8%.

With a tight labor market, one potential tool to grow employment would be wages. The average hourly wage in Wisconsin was $29.75 in February, up 7 cents from January.

Compared to February 2021, the average wage is up $1.81, a 6.5% increase that ranks 20th in the country. Compared to February 2020, wages are up $2.39, an increase of 8.7% that ranks 35th in the country.

Colorado has seen the fastest wage growth over the past year with $2.92 or 9.5% increase to $33.79 on average.

Kentucky has the largest wage increase since February 2020 with a $4.01 increase to $26.81, a nearly 17.6% increase.

In Wisconsin, the strongest wage gains over the past year have been in the leisure and hospitality sector, up 9.9% or $1.58 to $17.58. Wages in trade, transportation and utilities are also up 8.7 or $2.14 to $26.73.

In manufacturing, the average wage for production workers has increased 85 cents or 3.9% over the past year to $22.63.

Since the start of the pandemic, construction has seen the strongest wage gains, up 13.3% or $4.18 to $35.60. The average wage in financial activities is also up 11.9% or $3.92 to $36.82 while the average leisure and hospitality wage increased 10.9%.

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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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