Local workforce challenges persist despite low unemployment

Local unemployment rates


Clayton County

  • June 2022 — 2.9%
  • May 2022 — 2.5%
  • June 2021 — 4.7%

Delaware County

  • June 2022 — 2.1%
  • May 2022 — 1.7%
  • June 2021 — 3.6%

Dubuque County

  • June 2022 — 2.6%
  • May 2022 — 2.3%
  • June 2021 — 4.9%

Jackson County

  • June 2022 — 2.8%
  • May 2022 — 2.5%
  • June 2021 — 5.2%

Jones County

  • June 2022 — 2.8%
  • May 2022 — 2.4%
  • June 2021 — 4.8%


Jo Daviess County

  • June 2022 — 3.1%
  • May 2022 — 3.5%
  • June 2021 — 4.1%


Crawford County

  • June 2022 — 3.6%
  • May 2022 — 3.1%
  • June 2021 — 4.7%

Grant County

  • June 2022 — 3.2%
  • May 2022 — 2.3%
  • June 2021 — 3.7%

Iowa County

  • June 2022 — 2.9%
  • May 2022 — 2.3%
  • June 2021 — 3.8%

Lafayette County

  • June 2022 — 2.6%
  • May 2022– 1.9%
  • June 2021 — 2.9%

Unemployment rates remain low in Dubuque and across the tri-state area, reflecting an abundance of job openings but underscoring the labor shortage that has businesses struggling to fill them.

Iowa Workforce Development officials recently announced that the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 2.6% in June, representing a return to a pre-pandemic level. State officials pointed to that trend as a sign that reemployment efforts have been successful and that employers seek to move past the challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, local officials noted that these numbers reflect that many jobs in Dubuque County and elsewhere have been going unfilled.

Dubuque County’s unadjusted unemployment rate stood at 2.6% in June, in line with the state’s seasonally adjusted rate and below the national unemployment rate of 3.6%.

Clayton, Delaware, Jackson and Jones counties in Iowa; Jo Daviess County in Illinois; and Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties in Wisconsin also posted numbers below the national rate. The June unemployment rate in Crawford County, Wis., was even with the national rate.

Dubuque and most neighboring counties’ numbers were up slightly from May, but were otherwise “pretty in line with the change you would see normally,” said Alex Baum, director of initiatives at Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque.

“There’s not very much room for unemployment to drop,” Baum said.

Dubuque County’s labor force sits at 54,900 as of June, matching January’s high but still less than the 57,900 workers counted in January 2020. Workforce numbers dropped in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic and have struggled to rebound since.

Nic Hockenberry, Greater Dubuque Development Corp.’s director of workforce programming, said the tight labor market could be attributed to a “confluence of factors” that were keeping people who hadn’t retired out of the workforce.

“They haven’t all found their way back,” he said.

One group he pointed to were women, who have been slower to return to the workforce than other groups. He attributed this in part to the cost and general shortage of child care services in Dubuque County.

Baum had a similar assessment.

“There’s a lot of people that have left the workforce and stay out because of the expense child care has,” Baum said.

Baum said that the annual cost of child care for one school-aged child in Dubuque County in 2020 sat at an estimated $7,418 per year. Child care is considered affordable if it comprises 7% of income or less before taxes, he said. A family would have to be making $105,971 per year to meet that standard.

Based on those figures, Baum said, child care is unaffordable for 65.9% of Dubuque families.

“People are still struggling with the work they do have or are saying it doesn’t make sense for me to stay employed with this massive expense,” Baum said.

A Grant County official also cited child care as contributing to an uptick in unemployment in the county.

Unemployment jumped from 2.3% to 3.2% percent in Grant County from May to June, with increases also occurring in Crawford, Iowa and Lafayette counties.

Grant County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Ron Brisbois said he suspected the increase had to do with the end of the semester for local schools.

“I know the lack of day care has put a strain on the workforce,” he said. “So they left the workforce to stay with their kids.”