Wisconsin’s unemployment rate dipped to a record low of less than 3% in December, the state’s labor department announced Thursday, with more people employed than in February 2020, the last full month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Wisconsin.

The number of Wisconsin residents without jobs and who were actively seeking work fell to 86,200 in December, for an unemployment rate of 2.8%, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) reported. Those were both record low numbers, and not only lower than a year ago, but also below pre-pandemic February 2020 figures.

The number of employed Wisconsin residents exceeded 3 million in December. In that same month, the state’s total labor force — those people who have jobs or say they’re actively seeking work — topped 3.1 million, or 66.4% of the adult population. All three are higher than in February 2020.

Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate has historically been higher than the national average, which was 61.9% in December.

Even as more people reported they were working, employers have still not quite caught up with the number of jobs that they reported in the last pre-pandemic tally. DWD reported 2.9 million non-farm wage and salary jobs in December, about 100,000 below the last pre-pandemic report.

Dennis Winters, chief economist at DWD, said the discrepancy reflects in part the fact that fewer Wisconsin residents are holding more than one job now than in the past.

The workforce and employment data come from national household surveys that ask people about their work status. The jobs data come from a separate census of workplaces.

In response to Thursday’s report, Gov. Tony Evers issued a statement that pointed to initiatives that his administration has begun to address longstanding gaps in the workforce through programs to expand training resources, extend greater support to workforce newcomers and support the establishment of regional projects to address difficulties such as child care shortages.

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