State forecast points to slow improvements, sooner than expected

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    Wisconsin’s economy is faring better than expected in the aftermath of the shutdown of activity prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will still be two years before employment returns to pre-pandemic levels, according to the state’s latest forecast.

    The Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) report, issued Tuesday, indicated employment made a rebound in May, regaining 75,000 jobs, after a combined loss of 421,000 for March and April.

    “The economic forecast for Wisconsin expects to recover close to a quarter of the jobs lost by the third quarter of 2020, and close to three quarters of the employment loss by the second quarter of 2021,” the DOR June forecast states. “However, Wisconsin and the U.S. will take slightly more than two years to recover the pre-COVID-19 level of employment.”

    Leisure and hospitality was “the earliest and hardest hit sector,” with its employment cut nearly in half in the first weeks of the pandemic, according to the forecast; the same industry accounted for nearly 40% of job increases in May over the previous months.

    But both construction and manufacturing suffered lesser job losses in Wisconsin than in the U.S. as a whole. Both sectors were largely exempted from restrictions on movement and operations that were imposed by the state’s Safer at Home order, which ran from March 25 until May 13, when the state Supreme Court threw out an extension of the order.

    State unemployment peaked at 13.6% in April and dropped back to 12% in May, the report states. It forecasts unemployment to improve to below 9% by the end of 2020 and below 5% by the end of 2022.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.