Wisconsin’s unemployment rate jumps to 14.1 percent amid pandemic

Wisconsin DWD officials release data showing worst job losses since Great Depression
Wisconsin DWD

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is at its highest point since the Great Depression. The state’s job losses quadrupled in just a month.

“The economy has taken a pretty severe hit in a very rapid manner,” said Dennis Winters, chief economist for the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, during a media conference call Thursday.

The Wisconsin DWD released data (April Job Release Final) Thursday showing the state lost more than 439,000 total non-farm and 385,900 private-sector jobs from March 2020 through April 2020. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in April was a little more than 14 percent. However, that is still slightly lower than the national rate of 14.7 percent.

Winters said their job surveys ask people in households if they are employed or actively looking for a job.

“You are considered employed if you are working or not working but actively seeking work,” Winters said.

The state’s job losses have now reached a higher level than the 2008 recession.

“And if you go back even into the double-dip recessions in the early 80s, we never saw anything this high,” he said.

However job losses are still not at the level of the Great Depression where its believed unemployment was around 25 percent. Some experts say it could hit 27 percent before this is over, but Winters says that’s not likely.

“I think the odds of that are less than 50 percent,” he said.

Winters said the reason for the spike was because the survey was conducted in early April.

“That’s why you had this large and what seemed like a sudden jump,” Winters said. “That’s because all of this activity happened within weeks in the context of a monthly data series.”

He said a lot of these losses are temporary, but it’s unclear how fast companies will hire people back.

“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 on the demand of their businesses and how much they can open up.”

Winters expects high school and college graduates are going to struggle to find jobs right now. Winters estimates the numbers from June will tell us more about what reopening has done to unemployment. That data is expected in July.