State of Working Wisconsin: Now Live

Contact: Laura Dresser, Associate Director,, 608-695-9065

Today, COWS launched the State of Working Wisconsin 2020, which tracks the ongoing economic indicators of the COVID-19 crisis in the state. In just a few months, COVID-19 has upended workers in Wisconsin, leaving some without jobs, others dangerously exposed at work, and sending still others to work in their homes.

The unfolding pandemic, economic crisis, and national racial reckoning have meant a new approach to this year’s State of Working Wisconsin, which COWS has typically released every Labor Day since 1996. This site will receive regular updates with new resources, monthly data on jobs and recovery, and an expanding set of worker profiles.

A few key findings:

Dramatic Displacement and Uncertainty for the Unemployed

In June, 260,000 Wisconsin workers, 8.5% of the labor force, were unemployed. These workers are struggling to find jobs and are facing the July 31 end of unemployment insurance enhancements the Federal CARES Act provided. For many, the situation is desperate: savings and family support have been exhausted, and hiring is still insufficient to the scale of the dislocation.

Black-white Disparities Exposed and Exacerbated

“Before the COVID-19 crisis, Black-white disparities in Wisconsin were among the worst in the nation,” stated Laura Dresser, Associate Director at COWS, “But as COVID-19 has widened Black-white gaps nationally, Wisconsin’s racial divide, already pronounced, is likely growing as well.”

In our July release, we center on Black workers, with profiles of three Black Wisconsinites who have been impacted by the pandemic:

More profiles will be added over the summer, drawing on the experiences of workers across the state.

Poverty-wage Jobs even more Problematic, Dangerous and Unpredictable

Poverty-wage jobs – jobs that cannot keep a family out of poverty, even with full-time, year-round work – have become even more precarious in the COVID-19 crisis. Workers in these jobs are often exposed to the virus through contact with customers and co-workers. Their low-wages, weak benefits, unpredictable,and often insufficient hours of work leave them fighting to make ends meet while also trying to keep themselves and their family members safe.

“I’ve been a healthcare worker for 35 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it. We don’t have the things to keep people safe,” Demetrica Shipp said, a healthcare worker profiled in this year’s State of Working Wisconsin, “PPE is so very important – more than anything to me, but I’ve just got one pair of gloves and one mask to work with.”

“The pandemic has made the problems in low-wage jobs much more evident, as vulnerable workers in some of our lowest-paid sectors are deemed ‘essential’ but don’t have wages, benefits, or protective equipment that would honor that work. These workers need a raise, and they also need good health insurance and the policies and equipment that will keep them safe at work,” stated Dresser.

View the State of Working Wisconsin 2020 at

View previous State of Working Wisconsins at