Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dipped to 3% in November, tying a record low previously set in 2017 and 2018, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That's good news for workers and those interested in a new job, but for employers looking to fill open positions, it is another sign of a continuing tight labor market.
The state also added 12,300 private sector jobs compared to October, led by a gain of 6,700 jobs in leisure and hospitality including 3,600 in accommodation and food service and 3,100 in arts, entertainment and recreation.
The average hourly wage in Wisconsin also reached $28.96 in November, a nearly 4.1% increase from the same time in 2020. Over the past three months, the state has averaged a 4.2% year-over-year increase in hourly wages.
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate previously reached 3% for a 12-month stretch starting in December 2017. The rate actually dipped below 3% at times when data was initially released during that period but those figures have since been revised.
During that 12-month period, Wisconsin averaged a nearly 5.1% year-over-year increase in hourly wages.
How much more Wisconsin’s jobs picture can improve depends on which piece of data you look at. Employers certainly have jobs open, 217,000 of them in October, according to data released Friday by BLS. Workers are also showing a willingness to change jobs, as 82,000 people quit jobs in October, the third highest for any month in data going back to late 2000. August and September of this year are the only higher totals at 95,000 and 88,000 respectively.
The question is whether there are potential employees available for employers to hire.
Total private sector employment, measured by a survey of places of work, is still down about 75,000 from where it was in January 2020, just prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In November, Wisconsin averaged 7,301 initial unemployment claims and 27,063 continuing claims. For a pre-pandemic comparison, the state averaged 6,568 initial claims and 23,979 continuing claims in November 2019.
However, total employment, measured by a survey of households used to identify the unemployment rate, is now greater than it was in January 2020 and has been since July.
There were 93,427 people in the labor force and classified as unemployed, compared to 102,166 in January 2020 when the unemployment rate was 3.3%.
During the 2018 stretch of unemployment at 3%, the number of people considered unemployed bottomed out at 92,054.
However, in 2018, the labor force participation rate was around 67.4% on average. In November, the rate came in at 66.4%.
After bottoming out at 65.5% in October of last year, the rate has been trending higher. While that is nearly a full percentage point improvement from November 2020, it also equals the participation rate from January 2020.
Pre-pandemic, the labor force participation rate had been steadily falling since the late 1990s. Its best recent performance was an average of 68.1% in 2016.