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State Unemployment Rate Declined Slightly In August

Jobless Rate Drops To 6.2 Percent, With National Rate At 8.4 Percent

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The sun shines on the Department of Workforce Development building
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development’s headquarters in Madison, as shown in this Sept. 2, 2020 file photo. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin’s jobless rate continues to inch downward: The state’s unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent in August, down from a revised rate of 7.1 in July, according to new numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The state Department of Workforce Development released the new numbers on Thursday.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate in August was at 8.4 percent, marking an improvement from July’s 10.2 percent and April’s high of 14.7 percent.

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“While COVID-19 continues to hamstring economic recovery, especially in certain industries, DWD’s programming is available to help individuals safely reenter the workforce,” DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman said in a statement.

The new job numbers show Wisconsin added 34,700 jobs last month. Some employers have announced significant layoffs since then. Recently, Kohl’s, a retailer based in the Menominee Falls, announced plans to cut 15 percent of its corporate workforce.

Manufacturing employment continued to grow, albeit more slowly, in line with national trends, said Menzie Chinn, a professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

However, Chinn noted that national data on mobility — things like trips to the store or general travel, which economists often look at to gauge economic trends — suggest employment growth will continue to be modest, and that it’s likely that will be reflected in next month’s jobs data.

In Wisconsin, there were more than 11,300 new unemployment applications last week, which is lower than the previous week when there were over 12,360 claims. Initial weekly unemployment applications are seen as a more current indicator of the health of the economy than the unemployment rate, which is released with about a month-long lag.

The slight decrease in unemployment numbers is a “small step in the right direction,” said Tim Smeeding, a professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“But we’re still looking at a relatively high number of unemployed, a huge number of people who aren’t even in the labor force,” he said.

Smeeding also cautioned that increasing cases of COVID-19 in the state could dampen economic growth.

Despite significant improvement since the height of the pandemic in April, the wellbeing of local economies across the state remains mixed. In July, unemployment again fell in all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

Menominee and Forest counties continue to have the highest unemployment rate in the state. However, both areas improved from the previous month. Menominee County dropped from 20.6 to 18.3 percent unemployment, nearly double what it was a year ago. Forest County dropped to a jobless rate of 15.1 percent from 18.7, triple what it was a year ago.

The counties with the lowest jobless rate also saw their numbers drop. Lafayette County stands at 4.1 percent and Taylor County at 4.2 percent.

DWD is expected to release August county-level unemployment data on Sept. 23.

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