Four weeks of Wisconsin unemployment claims worse than any previous 12-week stretch

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Last updated on April 20th, 2020 at 12:10 pm

The total number of initial unemployment claims filed in Wisconsin during the last four weeks is greater than any 12-week period in data that goes back to 1987.

Wisconsin has seen 336,624 initial claims in the last four weeks, including 69,884 last week, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday.

Only one 13-week period in late 2008 and early 2009 exceeds the number of unemployment claims filed as Wisconsin and other states dramatically limit economic activity to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Wisconsin had the 25th highest number of claims in the country last week and ranks 20th in total claims filed over the last four weeks.

Rising unemployment is yet to show up in Wisconsin’s official unemployment rate, which actually dropped in March a tenth to 3.4% in March. The monthly survey data pre-dated the impact of the coronavirus response on the economy. Economists at UW-Madison estimated it is at 16.7% as of April 16. The high during the Great Recession was 9.3%.

The total number of claims filed in four weeks equals about 11.3% of Wisconsin’s total employment in February, the most recently available data for all states. Five states – Hawaii, Michigan, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Nevada – have seen claims equal to more than 20% of their employment.

Across the 12-state Midwest region, the number of claims filed has equaled 12.2% of employment on average.

Minnesota, 14.2%, Indiana, 13.8% and Iowa, 12.5%, have seen a higher proportion of claims compared to Wisconsin while Illinois is lower at 10.4%.

While Wisconsin continues to see an elevated level of unemployment claims, the number has dropped the last two weeks. That trend is continuing this week with the number of claims filed down 14.4%, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s initial count.

The initial count totals claims filed before processing and verification and differs from data reported at the federal level.

Another metric of rising unemployment, notices of mass layoffs filed by employers, has also continued to set records. A total of 7,682 employees were covered by the 69 notices filed in March and 7,667 workers were covered in the 40 notices filed so far in April.

Wisconsin averaged around 8,500 workers covered in layoff notices for the entire year in 2018 and 2019. Less than 6,600 workers were covered by notices in all of 2017.

The most recently filed notices include one from Nordstrom Inc. for stores in Wauwatosa and Madison. The company said it had furloughed 218 employees across three locations. The majority of those employees, 169 in total, worked at the Mayfair Mall location in Wauwatosa. Another 28 employees worked at the Nordstrom Rack store at Mayfair Collection, also located in Wauwatosa.

Another notice for Milwaukee-based Bars & Recreation Inc. covered the temporary closure of its four Milwaukee establishments, including Axe Mke, Splash Studio, Nine Below and North South Club. The company put 38 employees on unpaid temporary furlough and 10 remaining employees had their hours cut by 50% to 20 hours per week. Bars & Rec is still paying health insurance premiums for employees with coverage.

Chicago-based LSC Communications also filed a layoff notice for 393 employees at its plant in Baraboo. The company said it was implementing layoffs after its “retail and catalog customers suddenly, and significantly, decreased purchase orders.”

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He spent also five years covering manufacturing at 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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