A glimmer of good news on unemployment in Wisconsin

It is hard to find much, if any, good news in the data on Wisconsin’s labor market since mid-March.

Initial unemployment claims skyrocketed to 51,000 in the third week of March and then more than doubled to almost 111,000 the next week.

The number of claims has trended downward since then, but the 28,308 claims filed last week still nearly equal nine-times the number filed at this time last year.

In comments sent to the U.S. Department of Labor, Wisconsin officials noted the state saw a drop in layoffs in manufacturing and health care and social assistance industries.

Just as the number of initial claims skyrocketed, so too did the number of continuing unemployment claims, jumping to nearly 100,000 by the end of March.

Because of survey timing, the March jobs report didn’t show a jump in Wisconsin’s unemployment rate. The April report, however, put the state’s unemployment rate at 14.1%.

The surveys used to determine the rate are done in the week containing the 12th of the month. By that point in April, Wisconsin’s continuing unemployment claims total 321,063.

What’s the good news? The number of continuing claims has trended downward since hitting that peak. Even better news is that it saw its largest drop yet last week, a 5.1% decline from the prior week to reach 292,699.

The drop comes in the first full week after the state’s Safer at Home order was struck down by a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, allowing many businesses to reopen depending on their local rules.

Continuing claims, however, are still more than 13-times the level they were at during the same period last year.

Southeastern Wisconsin hasn’t seen the same downward trend in weekly claims since mid-April. From the point where state continuing claims peaked through the week of May 10, Milwaukee County had seen a 20% increase in claims to 56,611, Sheboygan County increased 13% to 6,057 and Kenosha County saw an 11% increase to 7,316.

Last week, however, every county in the region saw a drop in continuing claims. Milwaukee County’s decline was the smallest at just 0.8%. Kenosha County saw the largest drop at 6.4% followed by Sheboygan at 5.9%. Washington County also saw a 5.5% drop.

Get more news and insight in the May 25 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. Subscribe to get updates in your inbox here.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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