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DWD economist offers an upbeat picture for jobs, employment in 2024

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by Erik Gunn, Wisconsin Examiner
March 7, 2024

Wisconsin’s employment and jobs picture got off to a strong start in January, setting records in the number of jobs, the number of private sector jobs, the number of construction jobs as well as overall employment, the state labor department reported Thursday.

“We’ve been setting new employment records most of all last year and continued into this year,” said Dennis Winters, chief economist at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), in a briefing Thursday on the January numbers. Looking ahead, there’s “nothing, that seems to us, that’s going to turn things down much.”

Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that nearly 3.05 million Wisconsin residents were employed in January. The figure is derived from a federal government household survey.

From a separate survey that asks employers how many jobs they have on their payroll, the BLS projected there were nearly 3.03 million jobs in Wisconsin, including more than 2.6 million private sector jobs and 140,000 construction jobs.

All four data points marked new records for the state, Winters said.

Initial unemployment insurance claims — those filed by people who are newly jobless — are continuing at “historic lows,” he said, and continuing claims filed by people who remain laid off after the first week of collecting jobless pay are also at record lows.

“If you do get unemployed, you’re not on unemployment long, it doesn’t seem,” Winters said. People out of work are “getting jobs pretty quickly, as businesses are still looking for employees all over.”

Based on the household survey, a projected 3.2% of Wisconsinites who want to work are currently unemployed, a slight decrease from the last couple of months, according to DWD. The labor force participation rate — the percentage of people 16 or older who are working or actively looking for work — stands at 65.9%, ahead of the national rate of 62.5%.

Winters said warmer-than-normal weather helped buoy construction job growth beyond the seasonal norm in January, when winter conditions often dampen the sector. Most of the construction underway involves heavy construction projects as well as building multifamily housing, he said.

“We continue to add more jobs than expected as we go forward, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that consumers have money,” Winters said. “They’re employed, their wages are healthy [and are] increasing now in real terms.”

That was largely the picture in 2023, he added, “and we’re not seeing anything that’s going to upset it in ’24.”

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