WAUKESHA – States are seeing unemployment claims filed in record numbers due to COVID-19, but the size of the spike in claims varies, depending on the state.

According to data collected by WalletHub, Wisconsin’s rise in employment claims from January-March 2020 came in at 761.40%. That might sound like a lot, but it’s not compared to other states, like Indiana, which came in at 3,198.22% during the same period, or Louisiana at 5,800.48%.

Last week, unemployment numbers hit a record high with 3.3 million Americans filing initial claims between March 15 and March 21. That record was broken again Thursday, as data from the Department of Labor showed an additional 6.6 million people filed for unemployment insurance the following week ending March 28.

Unemployment agencies have struggled to keep up with the flood of claims, coming in mostly all at once.

Regarding reasons why Wisconsin is faring relatively better than some of its neighbors, one possible explanation is its strong manufacturing sector. “Wisconsin is very strong in manufacturing,” said Tim Casey at the Waukesha County Center for Growth. Many manufacturers, especially those serving essential industries like defense and health care, are still running.

With a higher than usual percentage of workers employed in manufacturing, the blow to Wisconsin’s employment numbers may have been softened by the fact that many are still working.

“What your industry mix is, and what markets you’re supplying to, has a lot to do with the numbers,” Casey said.

Akente Ward, economics instructor at Waukesha County Technical College, said rising automation may have also helped keep manufacturing resilient. “More and more jobs are going towards automation,” he said.

Ward said companies relying on disruptable just-intime supply chains may be in trouble, however, because they “can’t keep paying workers if (they) aren’t producing any goods.”

Timing could be a factor

Another potential explanation for Wisconsin’s smaller than might be expected unemployment numbers is timing. Gov. Tony Evers issued his “Safer at Home” order March 24, later than other governors; and the WalletHub data looks at the week of March 23, so the effects of Evers’ order may not be fully captured by the data.

Ward said one thing that can help keep the economy going is consumer spending. “The worst thing we can do at this time is stop spending,” he said. Although instinctually, some might want to impose austerity at the microeconomic level, that effect compounded over millions of households would further slow the economy overall.

For the time being, resources remain available to individuals and businesses that are struggling.

“We continue to work with business of all sizes that are trying to understand the financial options that are available to them,” Casey said, speaking for the Center for Growth and its sister organization the Waukesha County Business Alliance.

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