State releases new unemployment rates; Wausau metro area has lowest of state's urban centers

Published: Jun. 24, 2020 at 7:28 PM CDT
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The Wausau metro statistical area had the lowest unemployment rate in May in the state's twelve major metro areas, according to numbers released Wednesday from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

While the unemployment rate is still triple the number at this time last year, the Wausau metropolitan statistical area's 9.1% in May was the lowest of the state's metro areas, with the highest above 12%.

Unemployment fell across the state in May after shooting to a statewide average of more than 14% in April, with all but three counties seeing their unemployment drop last month.

"We're pleased to see it," DWD's chief economist Dennis Winters said. "The big unknown is what's going to transpire with the COVID-19 ramifications going forward. But if everything goes to plan and businesses can open up without too much setback, then we can expect more people to be hired going forward."

Dave Eckmann, President of the Greater Wausau Chamber of Commerce, said that a big reason why the Wausau area has had a better rebound is due to its economic diversity.

"Health care is ramping up again," he noted. "And now you have the retail environment coming back. The service industry at this point is probably the slowest at this point in time."

Other industries like manufacturing in the area never slowed down--or were quick to bring people back from layoffs, Eckmann said.

"Most of our manufacturers are tied to health care or military defense, they never really slowed down."

However, he warns that the journey from the current unemployment rate back to its 2019 levels of below 3% will still be a long journey.

"We're not going to see a steady drop in the unemployment, it's going to be a gradual way over the next few months," he said. "It's going to be a slow climb back."

Around the state, rates differ based on whether measured by metro area, city proper, or county. Taylor and Clark counties are at the lowest end of the spectrum at about 7%, while some counties like Forest and Menominee are the highest at over 20 and 30%, respectively--both of whom had higher unemployment rates at the same time in 2019 as well.