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Report: Wisconsin employment rebounds, but distribution of jobs uneven


Employment took a sharp nosedive in 2020 due to the pandemic.

But almost as quickly as people lost their jobs, they’ve been gaining them back.

Unemployment is at a record low while total employment is down about 2.4 percent from 2019, meaning about there are about 70,000 fewer people working in 2021 compared to 2019.

That recovery is a good thing for Wisconsin’s economy.

“Our lives as we knew them were completely upended and even still with this data less than two years after the pandemic started, we almost had recovered all of the jobs that we lost which I think is a pretty remarkable feat. It speaks the health of the economy and how we weathered this storm,” said Ari Brown, Senior Research Associate with the Wisconsin Policy Forum.

In a recent Wisconsin Policy Forum report authored by Brown, he found that job recovery hasn’t been even.

While businesses in industries like transportation and warehousing, construction, and tech services employ more people now than in 2019, a lot of service industries, think restaurants, retail, and entertainment, are below pre-pandemic employment.

Brown says those are the industries that took the biggest loss of jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, so it makes sense they’d take longer to recover.

“Part of it is also that you likely have individuals that were employed in those sectors seeking jobs elsewhere, obtaining jobs elsewhere and not going back to those sectors,” said Brown. “I think one of the things we’ve heard talking about this report was ‘Oh you know, when I go to a restaurant there’s help wanted signs out there. Service is not necessarily as good as it used to be at certain restaurants.’ The employment numbers seem to back that up.”

One industry of particular concern Brown noted in the report is healthcare.

For years, those in the healthcare field have been concerned about workers aging to retirement at a rate faster than younger generations are entering the field.

The pandemic likely worsened the situation.

“People, especially in that sector, really gave it their all at the beginning of the pandemic. Many of whom worked overtime and worked extra hours, fulfilled jobs duties they might not have had to prior,” said Brown. “By the summer of 2021 after more than a year of all those extra duties and extra pressure might have just said, ‘I’m completely burned out by this point. I need to change jobs.’”

While the Wisconsin Policy Forum doesn’t recommend one solution over another, the report does briefly hit on actions that could help fill job openings.

These includes targeted education and worker training, putting in more effort to draw workers from other states, and reducing barriers to employment like expensive licensing.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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