Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dips to 2.9% for first time

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

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate reached 2.9 percent in February, marking the first time the state’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate dipped below 3 percent since data collection began in 1976, according to data from the state Department of Workforce Development and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The two-tenth drop from January continued a downward trend that began in the second half of 2016. The February 2017 unemployment rate was 3.4 percent, down from 4.1 percent in February 2016.

Overall employment in the state increased by 7,400 to 3,068,200, according to place of residence survey data. Unemployment decreased 3,900 to 92,800. The seasonally-adjusted number of unemployed people was nearly the lowest in state history. The only other time it was lower was a period from March to October in 1999.

During the 1999 period, the state’s labor force participation rate was nearly 73 percent. In February it was 68.6 percent, up a tenth from January.

Wisconsin’s U-6 unemployment rate for 2017 was 6.5 percent, which includes people who are unemployed, marginally attached to the workforce or working part-time for economic reasons. Data for 1999 is not available.

However, the state’s falling unemployment rate hasn’t translated to better performance in job growth compared to other states. Private sector employment increased only 0.72 percent for the 12-month period ending in September, according to the most recent Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, the 32nd best growth rate in the country.

The QCEW is generally referred to as the “gold-standard” for job figures because it relies on data from 96 percent of employers. The place of residence survey is based on a survey of 985 households and unemployment claims. The place of work data is a monthly survey of about 5,500 employers in the state.

February’s seasonally-adjusted place of work data showed the state actually losing 300 private sector jobs from January and total non-farm employment was up 1,500.

Goods producing industries were up, led by durable goods manufacturing adding 2,200 jobs and construction adding 800 jobs.

Private sector service industries were down 3,600 jobs. Declines in transportation and warehousing, professional and business services and leisure and hospitality offset a gain in trade.

January’s gain of 8,000 private sector jobs was also revised down by 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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