Unemployment

The Eau Claire area gained back 1,400 jobs in May, but was still down 12,500 jobs from the level of employment seen a year ago.

Employment figures released Wednesday by the state Department of Workforce Development showed the Eau Claire metro area did see its jobless rate drop last month by a degree similar to the rest of Wisconsin.

“In those numbers we’re definitely seeing some businesses that reopened,” said Scott Hodek, chief of the office of economic affairs at the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

Surveys used to gauge Wisconsin’s unemployment figures for May were taken the same week that the state Supreme Court overturned the state’s safer-at-home order, allowing businesses to open after many were closed for two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

That likely caused the improvement from April’s jobless rate, Hodek said, but not all businesses had reopened or returned to full strength at the time of last month’s surveys.

The Eau Claire metropolitan area — consisting of Eau Claire and Chippewa counties — had surged to 12.3% unemployment in April, but went down to 10.6% last month.

Dunn County’s employment picture improved last month as well, going from 11.1% unemployment in April to 10.3% during May.

While signaling an improvement in the job market as more businesses reopened, local unemployment rates are still much higher than a year ago when they were at about 3%.

Statewide, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stood at 12% in May — an improvement from the 13.6% reported in April. The state’s jobless rate during May 2019 was 3.3%.

Hodek anticipates the June employment report will continue to show improvement in recognition of more businesses reopening and bringing back workers. But he’s hesitant to make any detailed prognostications due to potential future impacts of the novel virus that led to the downturn in the economy.

“It seems likely that the unemployment rates will gradually drop, but when they’re back to normal is impossible to predict because we can’t predict COVID-19,” Hodek said.

When a vaccine or new treatments for coronavirus arise, if a new wave of the illness crops up and whether more restrictive public health measures return all would impact consumer spending, the economy and workforce, he said.

Earlier this week, the state Department of Revenue released an economic forecast report with projections that were more optimistic than a month ago.

Private-sector employment was expected to fall 16.1% this year based on May’s report, but the one released this week now foresees a smaller decline of 7.8% for 2020.

The new economic forecast expects the state to recover nearly a quarter of job losses from the pandemic within the next three months. Nearly 75% of the jobs lost will come back by mid-2021, according to the projection.

But fully recovering from the recent employment reductions is expected to take longer.

“Wisconsin and the U.S. will take slightly more than two years to recover the pre-COVID-19 level of employment,” said the state’s economic forecast released on Monday.

Contact: 715-833-9204, andrew.dowd@ecpc.com, @ADowd_LT on Twitter