MILWAUKEE — The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s most recent report shows significant improvement in how Milwaukee area businesses are feeling about the economy compared to a year ago.

According to MMAC, 20 of 22 available May business activity indicators improved over year-ago levels. May’s total matches the 20 positive indicators registered in April.

“While not seasonally adjusted, May non-farm job totals are the highest they have been since the pandemic downturn began. Likewise, the unemployment rate fell below 5% for the first time in 14 months,” said Bret Mayborne, the MMAC’s economic research director. “Nonetheless there is still progress to be made. Metro area employment totals are still 35,900 below their March 2020, pre-pandemic downturn levels.”

Highlights of the data include:

Nonfarm employment in the metro area jobs rose 7.2% in May vs. year-ago levels. Job totals averaged 825,900 for May, the highest seasonally unadjusted total posted since March of 2020. May’s increase ranked somewhat slower than April’s 8.5% year-over-year gain.

By major industry, May year-over-year gains are broad-based. Eight of 10 major industry sectors posted year-over-year job increases in May. The leisure & hospitality sector (up 43.4%) posted the largest percentage job increase. Only the construction, mining & natural resources (down 5.6%) and financial activities (down 2.2%) sectors posted May 2021 year-over-year declines.

May’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.7% down 7.1 percentage points from one year ago (11.8%). Presently, Wisconsin’s May rate ranked lower at 3.9% while the U.S. rate ranked higher (5.5%.)

Manufacturing employment grew 3.8% in May vs. year-ago levels to 113,800. May’s gain registered slightly higher than the 3.7% year-over-year growth posted in April.