WISCONSIN (SPECTRUM NEWS) – The coronavirus transformed the Wisconsin job landscape almost overnight.

The state and country went from record low unemployment to jobless levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Through the end of April, more than 400,000 people in Wisconsin applied for unemployment as the virus forced the shutdown of businesses across the state and nation. While many of those jobs and hours and will return when virus mitigation efforts end – many will not. 

One of the few glimmers of hope: there are still jobs available and some companies continue to hire through the pandemic. Additionally, unlike the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, the massive job losses of the past few weeks are being driven by a health crisis and not – at least initially – an economic collapse.

If you have lost a job or hours – even temporarily -- here are some key things to keep in mind as you navigate the waters ahead.


How do I apply for unemployment insurance?

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development handles unemployment insurance applications and encourages people to apply as soon as they lose their job. Don’t wait.

“It’s going to take you a while and it’s very linear so you have to be ready to sit at the computer and go through the different steps,” said Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board in Green Bay “But you can do it.”

The process can take an hour or more, but having key information will help move the application along quicker. That’s things like:

  • Your social security number
  • Past employers; the dates you worked there; their and addresses and phone numbers
  • And if you served, military records like the DD 214.

“Unemployment laws are pretty complicated, but the process for applying is not that hard,” Golembeski said. “You go online to the Department of Workforce Development and they can guide you through it pretty well.”

In addition to submitting an application to the Department of Workforce Development, applicants must also register with the Wisconsin Job Center. The Job Center is clearing house for open positions around the state and offers resources to assist people in finding a new position or career.


What do I need to do then?

When an application is approved, people must file an online claim with the Department of Workforce Development each week they are unemployed. Beginning on Sundays, people need to return to the DWD website and answer a few questions to file that claim. 


How much unemployment will I get?

The amount is based on your average weekly wage and is capped a little under $400 a week.

Many people receive their payments shortly after applying, but others have reported it taking five or more weeks for the applications to be processed. 

Like most people, the unemployment system was not ready for the massive surge of applications over the last month. It has hired more people to help process the onslaught of applications — but some applicants are still waiting.

A $600 payment tied to coronavirus relief from the federal government is being distributed through state unemployment programs. Those payments are expected to begin in early May.


Where can I find more information?

  • Additional information about Wisconsin’s unemployment system can be found in this online handbook
  • COVID-19 specific questions can be found here.
  • And a list of frequently asked questions can be found here.


What can I do to find a new job?

No one expected to be here, right?

The first thing career experts say is don’t panic. 

“The first natural response is panic with ‘Now what am I going to do?’” said Denise Knutson, director of leadership development at The HS Group in Green Bay. “Instead, you want to take a deep breath and get your thoughts collected. Go about dotting the Is and crossing the Ts of life. Things like, ‘What do I have to do for insurance? What are my bills?’ Figuring out a budget. Looking at what’s available relative to unemployment compensation.”

The HS Group is providing free materials to help people get back on their feet in the wake of coronavirus related job losses. it can be found here.  

As people deal with unemployment and their next steps, she said it’s important to keep a regular schedule. That’s everything from getting up and taking a shower in the morning — as you would on any other workday — to carving out time to update your resume or seeking out a new job.

The economy bounced back after other traumatic events, from the 9/11 attacks to the Great Recession. Kuntson says that will happen again — it’s just a matter of when.

”There will be new industries that come out of this. there will be new jobs that come out of this,” she said. “Some jobs may not come back, but there will be new jobs that replace them — things we haven’t thought about.”

Gov. Tony Evers has waived an exiting requirement that people need to have four job search contacts a week to qualify for unemployment. This no longer needs to be done during the pandemic crisis.


Where can I look for jobs?

Many organizations around the state offer online job listings of businesses that are still hiring. For example, The Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce and NEW Manufacturing Alliance both offer websites with open jobs. 

Listings run from entry-level production work to machinists and welders.

“If you’re in the job market already, there is hope,” said Kelly Armstrong, vice president of economic development with the Greater Green Bay Chamber of Commerce chamber.

More recently, the Wisconsin Job Center began offering a listing of COVID-19-related in-demand jobs here.


What has changed in recent weeks in Wisconsin?

  • The Wisconsin Legislature recently suspended a one-week waiting period to receive benefits. That means newly unemployed people can start receiving payments right away.

People who applied the week of March 15 or later will receive retroactive payments to compensate for the week they waited. Those payments began distribution the week of April 21.

  • The department also began taking applications for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in late April. 

The federal program is designed to help people who fell into groups not covered by other forms of unemployment insurance — including the self-employed and people with a limited work history.

“The (unemployment insurance) system began accepting applicants who were contract workers, people who are 10-99, gig employees, the people who don’t get a W-2 but get a 10-99 on their taxes,” said Anthony Snyder, chief executive officer with the Fox Valley Workforce Development Board in Neenah. “They likely won’t get any state assistance because UI isn’t set up to pay any state benefits to gig workers or contracted workers, but the federal money is coming through that system.”

A listing of qualifications for the program can be found here.


What does the future hold?

This is the million (make that trillion) dollar question —with no clear answer.

Economic development specialists like Gordon Crow, the executive director of Centergy - a central Wisconsin economic development organization based in Wausau, says he expects the state’s economy will bounce back when things stabilize and measures to slow the spread of the virus are relaxed.

How quickly that happens is anyone’s guess.

“It is my judgment we will be somewhere between a U- and V-curve coming out of this,” he said. “People are hungry to get back work and I do think we’ll rebound stronger.”

But Crow said that rebound likely won’t be immediate.

“I think we’ll probably have an unemployment rate that has a glide path, it’s not going to drop right off,” he said.

Even operations working to get displaced workers back on their feet don’t have a crystal-clear picture of what awaits. Snyder said it's likely many businesses with 50 or more people that are closing for good have not filed required paperwork with the state.

That leaves little record or exactly how many people will need help when the economy begins to move again. 

“Of all the people who are unemployed out there, we don’t know which ones are temporary or which ones are permanent,” he said. “That means when the doors to the Job Center finally open once this Safer at Home period ends, I don’t if I’m going to see 1,000 people or 10,000 people.” ​