Wisconsin’s unemployment situation has rebounded, but participation in government programs remains elevated.
The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread economic disruptions as households and businesses learned to cope with the virus and the public health response. The unemployment rate spiked to 14.8% in Wisconsin in April 2020 as thousands of workers lost jobs. However, in a testament to the resiliency of the state, the unemployment rate quickly returned to below 4% by March 2021 and remains there today.
Government policies played a large role in helping Wisconsin households cope with the pandemic. Among other things, Congress expanded unemployment insurance, food assistance and housing aid, while also providing direct cash payments to individuals and families.
Wisconsin families benefited from these efforts, but the long-term implications of these program expansions remain a question.
As of September 2021, receipt of unemployment insurance, federal food assistance and cash aid for low-income parents in Wisconsin remains higher than pre-pandemic levels — and in the case of food and cash aid, caseloads continue to rise — even though the economic situation in Wisconsin has improved greatly. State policymakers should monitor these trends carefully and ensure that policies include the proper incentives to help Wisconsinites leave government assistance and return to work.