Unemployment

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at its highest in decades, based on seasonally adjusted numbers released on Thursday.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, the unemployment rate for April was 14.1%, compared to 3.1% in March.

"Today's report shows the significant impact that the COVID-19 global pandemic has had on the Wisconsin economy, and underscores the importance of rationally and safely reopening our state," the department's secretary Caleb Frostman said in a statement.

"A strategy based on science that reduces the likelihood of additional outbreaks and further economic instability is the only way to get Wisconsin back on the path of historically low unemployment rates that the state was experiencing prior to COVID-19," he said.

Wisconsin’s labor force participation rate in April was 66.6%, an increase of 6.4% from the previous month, the department reported. The state lost 385,900 private-sector jobs and 439,400 total non-farm jobs from March to April.

The department's chief economist Dennis Winters said in a press conference on Thursday that the 14.1 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is the highest rate the state has seen in a long time.

"I mean, through the Great Recession we didn't quite get to 10 %. I think the national number peaked out at 10%," Winters said. "If you go back even into the double-dip recessions in the early '80s we never saw anything this high."

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is 0.6% lower than the national rate. The United States released its first unemployment rate figures since the pandemic started on May 8. That Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed that in April, the national unemployment rate increased to 14.7% from 10.3% in March.

"Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality," the report said.

Winters said DWD expects to see an increase in employment after the state Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Ever's Safer at Home order.

"We would expect that as businesses open up that they will rehire some of their workers," Winters said. "The extent that they hire these workers will depend upon the demand of the business and how much they can open up."

The report also said the number of unemployed people who report being temporarily laid off increased from 1.8 million to 18.1 million, and that permanent job losers increased from 544,000 to 2 million. The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that 2.4 million people filed unemployment claims last week.

There was a lag between when national numbers came out and when states released their own numbers.

Wisconsin Public Radio previously reported that the Department of Workforce Development estimated the unemployment rate in Wisconsin could hit 27%, based off of the national numbers. Winters told WPR that he's unsure if the state will ever reach that high of an unemployment rate, but said there is a chance the situation could get worse before it gets better.

"I don't know," Winters said. "I guess the probability of getting all the way up to 27% unemployment rate either in the state or the national level, I think the odds of that are probably less than 50%."

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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