Wisconsin unemployment claims dropped last week, but there’s little room to celebrate

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Any other week, the 104,776 initial unemployment claims filed in Wisconsin last week would have been a record number.

In the last full week of March, however, the state saw 110,934 unemployment claims, the most for a single week in data that goes back to 1987.

It is hard to see the 5.5% drop in claims as a bright spot. The state has now seen more than 266,000 non-seasonally adjusted claims when the last two weeks are combined with roughly 51,000 claims in the first full week after the coronavirus pandemic and response started to hit the Wisconsin economy.

The total equals about almost 9% of the non-seasonally adjusted employment Wisconsin had in February.

Only one 10-week stretch during the Great Recession, from late November 2008 through January 2009, saw more unemployment claims filed in the state at 267,381.

Wisconsin was one of 20 states, and the District of Columbia, to see a decline in unemployment claims last week.

After ranking 17th in the country in total claims filed each of the last two weeks, Wisconsin had the 22nd most claims last week.

California had the most claims for the second straight week at 925,450, followed by Georgia, Michigan, New York and Texas.

The number of new claims in Wisconsin is continuing to slow this week. Almost 44,000 claims were filed from Sunday to Wednesday this week, according to initial count data from the Department of Workforce Development. Around 70,800 were filed during the same period last week.

The initial count data from DWD, which is released prior to processing and verification, differs from the initial claim data released by the U.S. Department of Labor. The DWD data showed a total of 103,226 claims for last week, slightly less than the total released by DOL.

It will take some time for the dramatic spike in initial claims to show up in the official unemployment rate for the state. Data for March is scheduled to be released next week but won’t capture the full picture because of survey timing. Data for April isn’t set to be released until May 21.

Based on the latest unemployment claims through April 6, economists at the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy estimate the state’s unemployment rate is around 13.9%. The highest during the Greater Recession was 9.3% in January 2010.

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