Road construction on Atwood Avenue in Madison. (City of Madison photo)
For the second consecutive month Wisconsin broke new records in April for low unemployment and new job creation, the state labor department reported Thursday.
“This is a new job record for the state,” said Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), during a virtual news conference.
The state counted more than 3 million jobs in April, a gain of 51,500 from a year ago and 9,600 jobs ahead of the number recorded at the peak in early 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 2.6 million of the jobs in April were in the private sector, 41,900 more than were recorded a year ago.
Wisconsin counted 3,012,200 people employed in April, an increase of 14,200 over March, according to DWD.
The unemployment rate dropped to 2.4% in April, also a new low, Winters said, and a percentage point below the U.S. unemployment rate of 3.4%. The state recorded 72,900 people unemployed and looking for work, another new low.
“We expect the unemployment rate to remain low,” Winters said. “Jobs appear plentiful, and employers continue to hire.”
Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate — a measure of how much of the population over 16 is working or looking for work — has reached 64.8%, which is 2.2 percentage points over the rate for the U.S. as a whole.
Employment, unemployment and participation in the labor force data come from household surveys conducted nationwide that ask whether household members are working or looking for work. Jobs numbers come from a separate census of employers.
April job growth took place in virtually all sectors, according to DWD. Manufacturing gained 5,700 jobs compared with April 2022. Construction was up 4,700 jobs, wholesale and retail trade up 7,700 jobs, health services up 8,900 jobs and leisure and hospitality up 8,200 jobs, all over the 12-month period.
While housing has hit “a bit of a slack” after an extended period of growth, Winters said he expects construction employment in particular to stay strong for highways and other projects, supported by expanded federal infrastructure spending.
Initial unemployment insurance claims as well as continuing claims are also at record lows, Winters said. “If people are losing their job — they’re laid off or leaving — they’re getting rehired at a historically rapid rate.”
Since the employment rebound after the initial job crash early in the pandemic, DWD has repeatedly pointed to an aging Wisconsin population as a looming hurdle for the state when it comes to helping employers fill job openings.
In the near term, Winters said, older workers are staying in the workforce and a number of younger workers in their late teens are entering the workforce, further boosting labor participation.
“The underlying work challenge remains demographics, simply baby boomers aging out of the workforce,” he said. “This is true for every occupation, all geographies.”
In response, the state continues to focus on opportunities for people who have been overlooked as potential workers and for whom the state has “programs that we’re trying to do to bring all those folks back in,” he said.
Acknowledging that it’s a favorite phrase of his when describing Wisconsin’s task, Winters added: “We need every body we can find and get everybody trained up to the max and get them employed and continue to fill the jobs that employers are looking for and keep the economy growing.”
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