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.
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.
Madison Forward, Part 1: Region's business community pushes ahead
The pandemic had devastating consequences for many Madison-area businesses. Some didn’t make it. Others found a way to limp through. The common thread in all these success stories is resilience. Here are some of their stories.
The pandemic brought unexpected challenges but Madison area businesses found ways to survive amid the losses.
While the food and hospitality industries slowed during the pandemic, Madison’s many biotech and health companies went into overdrive in response to the spread of the coronavirus.
Sponsored Content: When the Princeton Club launched its #ForABetterTomorrow campaign well before the pandemic struck, staff and members had no idea how meaningful it would become during and after the COVID-19 outbreak.
"Not only are we there to care for and educate kids, but without us, there is no economy. Without us, people cannot work."
"Overnight we became a digital production company," says Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra CEO Joe Loehnis.
COVID-19 forced new chapters in the business plans of most retailers once sales began to plummet.
Plenty of local restaurants closed in the past year due to the pandemic, and those that have survived, point to a combination of loyal customers, trusted employees, government assistance and online fundraising.
"It was really a steep learning curve because there was no playbook," said Tim Metcalfe, president of the family-owned Metcalfe’s Market.
"Even though we didn't have a lot of guests, we had to adapt and be nimble to a changing environment," said Phillip Mattsson-Boze, general manager of HotelRed and president of the Greater Madison Hotel & Lodging Association.
The shopping center has evolved from an indoor experience to a more open-air, urban shopping destination.
"I just knew I had to make it," Tammy Schreiter said. "I don't give up easily. And maybe that can be a bad trait but in this case it was good."
City street vending coordinator Meghan Blake-Horst said 57 carts are currently licensed to vend citywide, down from 67 last year. She said she's also working with potential cart operators who are interested in opening this season.
"I'm not going to attribute it to some high level of business acumen," owner Mike Batka said. "There is something to be said about being in the right place at the right time."
With major events canceled, travelers hit the lakes, rivers, trails and campgrounds to keep busy and socially distanced.
Sponsored Content: The Wisconsin Idea is the notion that the benefits of the University of Wisconsin should ripple well beyond the borders of campus.
Financial planning, donations and a $1.4 million Musicians' Relief Fund helped cushion the blow during a canceled season.
Sales jumped last year at the family-owned hardware stores, but snug Ace Hardware Center on the Isthmus closed to in-person shopping for more than a year.
Many Madison artists "persevered" by changing course.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking for most of 2020," executive director Jeff Burkhart said. "It definitely was a period of time where so much uncertainty existed."
Madison-based food delivery company EatStreet more than doubled its revenue last year, doubled its driver base in Madison and added about 200 …