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Jacob Walton works as a clinical support assistant, a new entry-level position at SSM Health designed to free up nurses and nursing assistants to do other work.

Wisconsin lost 2,200 jobs last month, due in large part to shrinking job numbers in the health and social assistance sector, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, released Thursday by the state’s Department of Workforce Development (DWD). 

Still, preliminary numbers indicate that the state has added 58,800 nonfarm jobs over the past year. And Dennis Winters, the agency’s top labor economist said he doesn’t yet see signs that a recession is underway. 

“Wisconsin is in pretty good stead all around,” Winters said. 

He pointed to the state’s unemployment and labor force participation numbers as evidence. In Wisconsin, the unemployment rate rose from 3.2% in September to 3.3% in October, but remained below the October national average of 3.5%. The state’s labor force participation rate fell from 65.6% to 65.3% but remained higher than the national figure of 62.2%. 

The state lost 4,200 jobs in health care and social assistance, a category that includes everyone from nurses and home health aides to counselors and child care workers. 

Meanwhile, other major sub-sectors of the economy continued to add jobs. Manufacturing and construction each added 1,800 jobs, bringing the construction sector to a record high of 135,800 jobs. Another 2,400 jobs were added in professional, scientific and technical services, a category that includes a variety of white collar jobs.

The state also added 1,100 jobs in transportation, warehousing and utilities, which includes the employees who pack and ship online shopping orders at retailers like Amazon.

“Other than health care and social services, (jobs) would have been up, and almost every industry is showing gains,” Winters said, referring to the results of the federal monthly survey of employers in various industries. 

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey, which asks Wisconsin residents about their employment status, found that the number of people working in Wisconsin shrank over both the last month and the last year. So too did the number of people in the labor force — meaning those who are either working or looking for work — shrank over the last month and over the last year. But Winters chalked that drop up to the usual fluctuations.

The bigger issue, he said, is that the state’s labor force has been “pretty flat” for about a decade due to a graying population and a flood of baby boomers reaching retirement age. 

In recent months, as wages for some workers have shot up, some have been able to drop their second jobs, Winters said. Others might have left the labor force if their partners got significant raises, especially if they were previously paying for child care that cost nearly as much as they made. “It may not be worth it,” Winters said.

Though many fear a recession is looming, Winters notes that it would take a while before such a change would show up in employment numbers. If it did, it would typically come in the form of a higher unemployment rate, a drop in the number of people employed, “fairly large” drops in the number of jobs reported on the employer survey and an increase in the number of people filing for unemployment insurance — a figure that’s currently at record lows for this time of year in Wisconsin. 

“So far, we haven't seen that anywhere,” Winters said. 

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