Wisconsin’s unemployment rate falls to 3.1%

But state lost 1,700 private sector jobs in May

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate fell to 3.1 percent in May, the lowest level since 1999, but other data released by the Department of Workforce Development showed the state losing 1,700 private sector jobs during the month.

Yet despite the loss of 1,700 private sector jobs in May, the state has added 24,000 private sector jobs so far in 2017.

The seasonally-adjusted, preliminary data is an indication that Wisconsin’s job market has rebounded during the first half of the year after 2016 produced the worst calendar year of job growth since 2009.

The unemployment rate is down 1 percentage point since May 2015 with the entire decline coming since the start of the year.

Total employment increased by 12,400 from April to 3,059,000 in May and unemployment fell by 4,200 to 96,300, according to place of residence data based on a survey of 985 households. The civilian labor force increased by 8,200 and labor force participation increased to 68.8 percent.

The labor force participation rate has increased from 68 percent in December 2016 and is 0.5 percentage points above the average of 68.3 percent during Gov. Scott Walker’s time in office. The state ranked ninth in the country and sixth in the Midwest for labor force participation in April.

Employers have pointed to a lack of available workers as a reason for 2016’s weak job growth, although there are other explanations tied to the broader economy. A recent survey from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce found 77 percent of employers report having trouble finding workers, up from 70 percent last year and 53 percent in 2014.

“The economy can’t stay strong if labor availability is weak,” said Kurt Bauer, WMC president and chief executive officer. “Wisconsin needs to attract labor from other states and abroad in order to grow our economy.”

Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen said the state is taking steps to address workforce needs with worker training grants and registered apprenticeship programs.

“With more people working in Wisconsin than ever in state history and a state unemployment rate hovering near the lowest on record, we are taking the necessary steps to continue building our best-in-class workforce to meet the labor market needs of the modern economy,” Allen said.

Wisconsin’s labor force participation peaked at 74.8 percent in September and October of 1997 and averaged 72.8 percent in 1999, the last time unemployment rates were at their current levels.

A separate survey of 5,500 employers, however, showed the state lost 1,700 private sector jobs during the month of May, although that figure is not outside the survey’s margin of error. Only one sector showed a significant change from April as the information sector lost an estimated 1,000 jobs.

Other notable shifts included 3,700 jobs added in professional and business services and 1,700 added in leisure and hospitality.

Total nonfarm employment was down 3,100 during the month as local governments shed 3,100 jobs while state and federal government increased by 1,500 and 200 respectively.

Wisconsin’s non-seasonally adjusted employment rate fell to 2.8 percent, tied with 1999 for the lowest rate in the month of May since 1976.

Predictably, the non-seasonally adjusted figures were led by an increase of 19,900 jobs in leisure and hospitality as the tourism season gets underway. At 286,900, employment in the sector was up about 6,300 over the same time last year.

Construction also added 6,300 jobs from April, but was at 116,500, employment was down by about 500 compared to last year.

The state’s May jobs report was also dampened by a downward revision of 1,500 jobs to the April report. The new estimates show the state adding 6,000 jobs during the month after a gain of 7,500 was previously reported.

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Arthur Thomas
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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