MILWAUKEE — Since mid-March 745,000 Wisconsin workers have filed for unemployment as the COVID-19 pandemic closed businesses across the state.
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As the number of cases in other states rises, some worry about a potential second wave. Meanwhile, the state has slowly started to reopen and some are going back to work.
James Peoples, an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee says the bounce back in the unemployment rate is looking good, but cautions what a second wave might mean if some have gone back to work too fast.
"The fact that they're doing well, I urge caution because the backdrop to this is, you also see a surge in cases," Peoples said. "So one has to wonder has the increase in jobs in demand in hospitality, bars and restaurants, is that contribute to this wave of increasing cases? And if that is the case, you go back to where we started from."
Which could lead to more people potentially unemployed.
"Statistics show the longer you're unemployed, the more difficult it is to get a job," Peoples said.
Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Caleb Frostman says they are watching the potential for a second wave carefully.
They hope if it comes, the federal government will expand the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which pays an additional $600 a week in unemployment.
"That's set to expire on July 25 and just, you know, knowing that Wisconsin's maximum for UI and then of course for PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) from the federal side, it's $370 a week," Frostman said. "It's really challenging for Wisconsin families to make it on that amount."
He says the DWD has made changes to handle the unprecedented number of claims, like moving people in the department, hiring new workers and signing on call centers to handle the influx of calls.
According to numbers released by the DWD on Tuesday, 528,999 claims have yet to be processed.
"I think we feel, you know, obviously, there's been a lot of lessons learned a lot of efficiencies gained but having these vendors on board and having made these additional hires, we feel really pretty well-positioned to, you know, work through additional claims that there are more coming forward from what we've learned in the past three months here," Frostman said.
As for getting back into the workforce, Peoples says if you're still unemployed, consider working on your skills to stay sharp when the time comes to return to work.
"If your industry shrinks, you have the skills to go somewhere else," Peoples said. "So again, longer you're unemployed, the harder it is to find a new job, it will be easier to find a job for people that have maintained those skills, and they can go online to maintain those skills."