Wisconsin’s economy bounces, but has a long way to go
I went to a restaurant the other night and something happened that has not happened in quite a while. I had to wait for a table. It was a sign that we are on a long, slow road back to normal. Outside of Milwaukee and Madison, the summer life of sidewalk tables, brat fries, live music, and outdoor recreation have returned, if muted, for these few precious months before those northern winds return Wisconsin to its deep freeze.
My anecdotal experience is borne out in the most recent employment numbers from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. According to the preliminary data, Wisconsin added 104,600 total nonfarm jobs in June and the unemployment rate dropped to 8.5% from an adjusted peak of 12.1% in May. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate remains below the national unemployment rate of 11.1%, but the state rate traditionally lags the national rate due to the state’s economic mix. People are getting back to work as Wisconsin’s economy groans back to life.
Digging deeper into the data, there are some promising signs and some worrying signs. On the positive side, almost all of the job growth came from the private sector. Leading the way, private-sector service-providing sectors added 100,000 jobs. Some 16,400 of those were retail trade jobs as stores opened; 11,300 jobs were added in health care and social assistance. A whopping 47,700 jobs were added in the leisure and hospitality sectors. Many of the sectors of the economy that were hardest hit are bouncing back.
The troubling part of the report is just how far Wisconsin still is from where we were just a few short months ago. Despite the strong growth in jobs, there are still over 200,000 fewer people working than were in June of 2019. And while an unemployment rate of 8.5% is still nothing to brag about, it is still overstated. About 44,400 people have left the labor force completely and are not counted in the unemployment rate. The cause of the economic recovery is quite simple. In his initial overreaction to the onset of coronavirus, Gov. Tony Evers forcibly shut down the state’s economy. Widespread job losses and economic contraction was inevitable with the governor standing in the restaurant door. When Evers attempted to ignore the Constitution and extend his dictatorial rule, the state Supreme Court stepped in and stopped Totalitarian Tony’s economic stranglehold.
Since then, most of the state has opened. It has done so cautiously and unevenly, but it has opened. Outside of a couple of cities being run by liberal mayors, the state’s restaurants, shops, and factories have tried to get back to work.
In order to continue the state’s economic recovery, a few things need to happen. First, government needs to step back and let people and businesses manage their own lives. The virus is here to stay. Whether or not we ever have a vaccine, we cannot live perpetually petrified. We all know a lot more about how the virus spreads, who is at greatest risk, and how to mitigate the risk of catching and spreading the virus.
Second, we need our governments at all levels to stop threatening to shut down the economy again. The uncertainty continues to retard a recovery. Whether or not the initial lockdowns, and how and when they were implemented, helped prevent the spread of the virus will be subject to studies for years. What is indisputable is that the lockdowns had countless other negative outcomes on people’s health and wellbeing as health care systems denied treatment for non-COVID ailments and economic stress pushed people to the brink. What is also indisputable is that our politicians have proven that they are incapable of evenly enforcing a lockdown as they crack down on some people and allow others to violate them at will.
Furthermore, it is clear that the American people are done with being locked down. Even as some states and cities try to reimpose economic restrictions and infringe on civil rights, those actions are being widely ignored. After the initial shock and awe of coronavirus, Americans are finding their spines again and remembering that liberty is in our blood.
Finally, the only way our economy can truly recover is for Americans to feel comfortable returning to their normal activities. For some people, they will never feel comfortable returning to restaurants, shops, concerts, or anything else until they feel that everyone else is taking reasonable steps to prevent the spread of disease. That means that for those of us who may not have much, if any, fear of the ’rona, we must respect the concerns of others. Keep some distance, wash your hands, and, yes, put on a mask if the situation warrants. Such measures may keep you from getting sick, but they will definitely help our economy get healthier.
(Owen B. Robinson is a conservative Wisconsin political commentator and former West Bend resident. He can be reached at owen@bootsandsabers. com.)
Despite the strong growth in jobs, there are still over 200,000 fewer people working than were in June of 2019.