State job picture improves, but full recovery is far off

    "Unemployment" by Philippe Lhote picturing a mural on an abandoned factory in Völklingen, Germany CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Wisconsin’s pandemic jobs recovery continued in July, with the state restoring 30,500 jobs and the unemployment rate falling to 7%, the state Department of Workforce Development reported Thursday.

    The numbers are an improvement as the economy struggles back from record-breaking job losses in March and April that came with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and state orders that required many businesses to shut down temporarily and kept people home to avoid spreading the virus.

    But the jobless rate is still twice what it was earlier this year before the pandemic and the state health emergency that it triggered.

    head shot of Caleb Frostman
    Caleb Frostman

    “We welcome the good news that Wisconsin continues to add jobs month over month, and our state unemployment rate declined to 7%,” said Caleb Frostman, DWD secretary, “but Wisconsin is currently down over 216,000 private-sector jobs over the year, with the vast majority of those declines occurring in the service-providing sector.”

    In June the state’s unemployment rate stood at 8.6%. But a continued downward trend isn’t guaranteed.

    “The modest job growth we have seen so far occurred during a period that the federal government was taking action to address the economic effects of the pandemic,” says Tamarine Cornelius, an analyst with the Wisconsin Budget Project and Kids Forward. “Now, with the Senate refusing to extend the supplement to unemployment benefits, and other supports running out in the next few months, it’s not clear that we will be able to maintain even the small gains that we have made.”

    A new round of COVID-19 relief legislation would help, she says — reupping the federal $600 weekly unemployment supplement that ended last month, bolstering nutrition aid (SNAP, sometimes referred to as food stamps), and more.

    “If Congress approved another package that included aid to state governments and schools, expanded SNAP benefits, and kept the unemployment benefits supplement, that would make it a lot more likely that we could get the economy back up and running sooner rather than later,” Cornelius says.

    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.