Wisconsin's unemployment rate falls to five-year low of 5.9 percent
Wisconsin's unemployment rate dipped below 6.0 percent in March to a five-year low of 5.9 percent, down from 6.1 percent in February, reaching its lowest point since November 2008.
Thursday's report from state Department of Workforce Development, which is based on preliminary estimates, shows that Wisconsin gradually is approaching pre-recession employment levels.
The March unemployment rate also lies well below a high point of 9.2 percent in 2009, although not yet back to levels around 5 percent prior to the 2008 financial crisis, which triggered the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Wisconsin's jobless rate remains below the national unemployment rate, which was unchanged in March at 6.7 percent. The Wisconsin unemployment rate consistently has been lower than the U.S. rate since 1985.
Marquette University economics professor Abdur Chowdhury said Wisconsin is tracking the U.S. trend.
Banks across the nation, which halted many loans in the aftermath of the financial crisis, gradually are returning to lending practices that are more flexible and less risk averse, Chowdhury said. That helps business confidence, “and the result is that we are seeing an increased employment level,” he said.
Separately, the state workforce development agency also reported Thursday that Wisconsin gained an estimated 6,400 private-sector jobs in March from February.
However, the preliminary monthly estimates are subject to major revisions and carry an unusually wide margin of error due to the small size of the monthly government surveys.
A much more accurate picture of the state labor market is provided by the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, which is based on a census of 96 percent of the state's public- and private-sector employers.
According to the most recent Quarterly Census, released this month, Wisconsin gained 28,351 private-sector jobs in the 12 months from September 2012 through September 2013—a 1.2 percent pace that ranked it 35th among the 50 states.
Nationally, initial jobless claims in the past month hit their lowest level since the start of the recession.
The number of people filing for first-time unemployment benefits rose slightly last week to 304,000 from the previous week's upwardly revised figure of 302,000, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Despite the revision, the 302,000 claims in the week ended April 5 were the lowest since May 2007.
A more stable barometer—the four-week average of new claims—dropped to 312,000 last week. The Labor Department said that was the lowest since October 2007, two months before the start of the downturn.
Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Sterne Agee, said falling jobless claims are only half of the labor market equation. While they indicate fewer layoffs, they don't point to greater job creation.
She noted that “claims have been on the decline for quite some time, and that hasn't yet translated into meaningful improvement on the other half of the equation, job creation, as hiring remains unimpressive.”
The economy added 192,000 net new jobs in March.
On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen said that for the first time since the financial crisis, economists are predicting a return to full employment in their medium-term outlooks.
But that still means it is more than two years away, she said.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.