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Wisconsin's job loss during pandemic lower than neighboring states
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COVID-19 | WISCONSIN

Wisconsin's job loss during pandemic lower than neighboring states

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Wisconsin fared better than both the national average and all four of its neighboring states in terms of the percentage of jobs lost during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report.

The report, released Thursday by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Policy Forum, found that between September 2019 and September 2020, Wisconsin saw a 5.2% drop in total jobs, compared with 5.3% in Iowa, 7.4% in Minnesota, 7.8% in Illinois and 7.9% in Michigan. Nationwide job loss was 6.8% over that span, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“In this region, only Iowa rivals Wisconsin in limiting its employment losses during this period,” the report states. “Since then, more recent monthly survey data running through January show relatively modest changes in overall employment in Wisconsin compared to September and to other states.”

At the same time, Wisconsin was still down more than 150,000 jobs by September of last year compared with a year prior. Businesses that rely on face-to-face interactions with customers were the hardest hit, particularly those in leisure and hospitality, which saw an 18.8% drop in jobs over that span.

The Forum’s report notes Wisconsin’s large manufacturing sector saw a 5.5% drop in employment, accounting for more than 26,000 jobs, between September 2019 and September 2020, compared with a 6.8% drop in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan. Wisconsin’s percentage of jobs lost during the pandemic was lower than neighboring states in nearly every sector.

The report states that additional research may be needed to explain why Wisconsin’s economy fared better than neighboring states, but the Forum does note that the state’s share of employment in industries hardest hit by the pandemic was lower than the national average.

A Department of Workforce Development economist said last month Wisconsin’s diverse economic portfolio, which includes a large manufacturing industry that was less affected by the pandemic than some sectors, helped ease the pandemic’s impact on the overall economy.

The Department of Workforce Development reported earlier this month that the state’s unemployment rate in March was 3.8%, compared with 6% nationwide.

While preliminary data show the state added 12,900 total non-farm and 11,100 private-sector jobs between February and March of this year, Wisconsin was still down 129,000 non-farm jobs and 98,300 private-sector jobs when comparing this March to last March.

The Forum also notes $3.2 billion in additional federal funding allocated to the state in the latest stimulus could help industries hardest hit by the pandemic continue to bounce back.

“Thoughtful and strategic use of these dollars will be essential,” according to the report. “While they will face many competing demands, state and local policymakers may wish to consider how to prioritize the industries most affected by employment losses in 2020.”

Gov. Tony Evers has pledged to spend $2.5 billion of those funds on economic relief for families, workers and small-business owners, which includes $50 million for the tourism industry and $600 million to support businesses affected by the pandemic — which includes $420 million in grants to small businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor plans to provide additional details on how funds will be allocated once guidelines are provided by the federal government.

All told, the state of Wisconsin and local governments are poised to receive close to $20 billion in federal COVID-19 funds passed by Congress during the past 13 months — more than twice the funds received by the state during the Great Recession.

Jobless aid

The Department of Workforce Development on Wednesday announced an expansion of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program following the federal government’s expansion of the program in February.

The department this week plans to mail an estimated 28,000 people who were initially denied PUA benefits notices informing them that they can reapply under three new coronavirus-related reasons that may now allow them to qualify.

Individuals eligible under the new expansion include:

  • Someone who was denied continued unemployment benefits because they did not return to work or accept an offer at a worksite that was out of compliance with local, state or national health and safety standards including face-mask requirements, social-distancing measures or access to personal protective equipment.
  • Those who provided services to an educational institution or service agency who are unemployed due to volatility in their work schedule directly caused by the pandemic.
  • Someone whose hours have been reduced or who was laid off due to a COVID-19 public health emergency.

Individuals who previously applied for PUA benefits can backdate their applications to when they were first impacted by the pandemic. Those who did not previously file for expanded benefits may still be eligible under the new rules, but may be subject to backdating limitations.

Those eligible could receive up to 79 weeks of back payments and department officials expect to release “millions of dollars” of additional payments under the new expansion.

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