FRI AM News: Unemployment rate falls to 3.8 percent in January; ‘WisBusiness: The Podcast’ features Laura Dresser, COWS

— Wisconsin in January had an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent, less than the national average of 6.3 percent but still above pre-pandemic levels.

The latest data from the Department of Workforce Development showed the state in January gained 3,700 more jobs compared to December, a 0.2 percent change. But, overall, Wisconsin’s employment force still falls short by some 43,300 jobs when compared to the same time last year.

DWD Chief Economist Dennis Winters told reporters the unprecedented nature of 2020 made developing accurate numbers more difficult than usual. But he added that he does expect 2021 to be a “pretty good growth year” as more people become vaccinated and areas of the economy like the hospitality industry begin to reopen.

“It’s kind of a race between fiscal health and inoculations,” he said. “Demand will pop back pretty quickly once we get to the end of this. The U.S. economy is fairly resilient.”

Another factor, Winters said, would be exactly how much people’s lifestyles have changed as a result of quarantine and the pandemic. He suggested people may commute to work less often than they used to or eat more at home.

Compared to other states, Wisconsin ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack, according to Winters, although he added he dislikes ranking states based on jobs performance.

He said it all comes down to the main driver of each state’s economy. States like Hawaii and Nevada, which heavily rely on tourism, took a bigger hit than most last year and may see a faster recovery, too, as people go back on vacations.

Meanwhile, Midwestern states like Wisconsin that run more on manufacturing managed to skirt the same kinds of job losses.

See more:

— The new episode of “WisBusiness: The Podcast” features Laura Dresser, associate director of COWS, a national think tank housed at UW-Madison.

COWS, also known as the Center On Wisconsin Strategy, works on national issues building a “high road “ economy — a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society.

“We’re focusing on what economic change means for working people,” Dresser said. Work changed dramatically for everybody during the pandemic, she said. Some lost their jobs and still have no job, some face potential exposure to COVID-19 in their jobs, and a small set work from home.

“It also changed in ways that exacerbated and exposed underlying inequality,” she said. “The racial inequality and job quality issues that were existing before really got pressed into focus by the crisis.” 

Dresser predicted the passing of the federal stimulus bill this week will do a number of things that help to close some of the inequalities, including the extended and more generous Unemployment Insurance, and the child allowances. But some are time limited, she argued. 

See the State of Working in Wisconsin: 

Listen to the podcast, sponsored by UW-Madison: 

— The Tavern League of Wisconsin urged Dane County Exec Joe Parisi to eliminate “oppressive regulations and allow the hospitality industry to open up and operate safely like the rest of the state.”

The state and local league presidents sent Parisi a letter yesterday arguing their members in Dane County face “onerous” capacity limits while other establishments in other counties have been “open and following CDC guidelines and the state’s mask order.”

“The hospitality industry did not cause this horrific pandemic but for some reason we have become a convenient scapegoat for many in state and local government,” the letter reads. “Dane County should focus on working with the hospitality industry not driving them out of business.”

But Public Health Madison & Dane County said a cautious approach to reopening has likely contributed to one of the lowest case and death rates in Wisconsin despite the area being a population center.

Dane County, the second-most populated county in Wisconsin, ranks No. 5 for COVID-19 deaths and No. 11 for confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. Its seven-day average for daily cases has more than halved in the past month. 

The agency ticked off a number of stats that suggest activity in bars and restaurants increase the spread of the virus and that allowing on-premises dining via public health orders is associated with increased daily case and death growth rates.

“Given the continued decline in case counts and the number of people vaccinated increasing daily, we are cautiously optimistic that we could see extreme loosening or dissolving of many pandemic restrictions sometime in summer 2021 or even earlier,” the agency said.

Read the Tavern League letter:

— Sorg Farm Packing in southeastern Darien is issuing a voluntary recall for buffalo meat summer sausage and snack sticks. 

The products, which were produced for a farmer’s market in New Hampshire, were not labeled with a refrigerated-handling statement. The recalled products include the 8-ounce packages of buffalo summer sausage and 1.75-ounce packages of uncured buffalo snack sticks.

A routine state inspection found that since the products were not made under a full cooked, shelf-stable plan, it required refrigeration for safety. The products were not labeled with the appropriate safe handling statement to indicate refrigeration is necessary. 

No illnesses have been reported as a result of consuming these products. Consumers who have any of these products should discard them. 

— Following the signing of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, Vice President Harris met virtually with people across the country, including Wisconsin small business owner Nadiyah Johnson.

Harris initially met with Johnson during an event with small business owners during her first week in office on Jan. 22. Johnson is the founder of the Milwaukee software company Jet Constellations.

She aims to rebrand Milwaukee as “The Milky Way” – a tech hub representative of Milwaukee’s diverse population. At the event yesterday, Johnson and others discussed how the American Rescue Plan will deliver urgently-related relief to their communities.

— Wisconsinites age 16 and older with certain medical conditions will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 29, the Department of Health Services announced.

This eligibility group includes people with medical conditions associated with an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, aligning with the recommendations provided by the CDC.

Eligible people include those who have asthma, cancer, high blood pressure, are immunocompromised, overweight or pregnant. See the full list of eligible medical conditions:

This group likely adds more than 2 million Wisconsinites to the line, according to DHS. Due to the limited supply of vaccines, DHS recommends providers prioritize individuals within this population who are at higher risk, such as those with severe medical conditions, people with more than one condition, the elderly or people living in communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. But vaccinators are not required to sub-prioritize people.

“Wisconsin continues to be a national leader in vaccinations and we are excited to open up eligibility to more Wisconsinites,” said Gov. Tony Evers. “We urge those eligible and at highest risk to get vaccinated because each shot in arms means we are one step closer to getting back to our Wisconsin way of life.”

— Based on the recent and anticipated increases in vaccine availability, DHS anticipates all Wisconsinites can get a COVID-19 shot by May.

DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk said the state is now getting 130,000 first-doses with another 35,000 first-doses going to pharmacy partners. In the coming weeks, the state is expecting up to 250,000 first-doses from the federal government. 

Willems Van Dijk said herd immunity — 80 percent of the population vaccinated — could come as early as June if everyone is willing to get vaccinated. 

“In reality, I think it’s going to be a little bit harder once we get over 50 to 60 percent, and we may need to encourage a lot of people to get vaccine, so it may take a little bit more time,” she said. “I fully anticipate that we’ll be vaccinating well throughout the summer.”

— Gov. Tony Evers said the last thing he wants to do is relax COVID-19 mitigation efforts — and the mask mandate — so close to the pandemic’s finish line.

When asked if he intends to extend the mask mandate come its expiration on April 5, the guv told reporters he’ll make his decision based on what virus transmission looks like in the state, adding that right now in Wisconsin and across the country, cases are plateauing. 

“We’ll take a look at it in early April and see how that looks, and if it looks like we need to have another push around masking, we’ll do that,” he said. 

Wisconsin is seeing a downward trend on daily cases. In January, the daily case average fell by over 1,000 cases. In February, it dropped by about 700. In the first two weeks of March, daily case averages have gone down by about 220 cases. 

“There are many unknowns obviously in this race to end the pandemic, and what everybody at this table, and frankly everybody across the state believes, is that the last thing we want to do is … let our guard down on issues around mitigation when we’re kind of at the finish line,” Evers said. “We don’t want at some point in time having to push out that finish line because we decided to not mitigate when we should.”

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– Most Wisconsin farmers have made ARC & PLC elections before Monday’s deadline 

– Co-op Day at the Capitol Planned for Next Week in Madison 

– Wisconsin Potato Board Seeking Nominations 


– Madison School District to return all grades to classrooms 

– UW-Madison plans graduates-only commencement ceremony at Camp Randall 


– Industry groups want PPP changes as deadline nears 


– Mayo study: mRNA vaccines shield against COVID-19 infection 

– Milwaukee will administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at homeless shelters  


– Wisconsin Bill Would Penalize Cities For ‘Defunding’ Police Departments 


– New boutique to open at Hilldale

– Kroger closing more stores rather than provide hazard pay 


– With Vaccinations Rising In Wisconsin, Are Small Businesses Preparing To Ramp Back Up? 


– Bucks to increase fan capacity at Fiserv Forum 


– These Wisconsin startups are receiving grants of up to $100K to commercialize their tech 


– Inside Wisconsin: Four ideas to help stimulate the startup economy 


<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

– Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce: Manufacturers should be prioritized for vaccine

– Marshfield Clinic Health System: Continues to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for frontline workers, people 65+

– Dept. of Workforce Development: Wisconsin adds 11,100 total non-farm jobs in January; unemployment rate declined to 3.8 percent

– Dept. of Health Services: Announces medical conditions eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine March 29