In March 2020, the US took dramatic steps to stop the spread of COVID-19. States issued stay-at-home orders, the economy contracted dramatically, jobs plummeted, and unemployment spiked. After the collapse, the economy improved rapidly in early summer 2020. In fall and winter, the recovery sputtered, but in spring 2021 the recovery strengthened.
There are some reasons for optimism about the trajectory of the economy. In June and July, Wisconsin added jobs. Vaccinations are widely available. Federal investments in recovery are supporting families and children. But the picture is mixed. The Delta variant is on the rise in Wisconsin, and some of the programs that support the most vulnerable – expanded UI, eviction moratoriums, etc.— are coming to an end. And in the month of August, the Wisconsin economy lost jobs again. For working Wisconsin, there’s no crystal ball about where we’ll be in a few months.
The Leisure and Hospitality Industry — restaurants, bars, hotels, etc. – has been the hardest hit in the COVID-19 economic crisis.
Even before the collapse, the industry’s workforce of waitstaff, bartenders, dishwashers, housekeepers, and others suffered low-wages, volatile and unpredictable hours, and few benefits. Workers in this industry – more likely to be women and people of color – suffered the dislocation of the crisis.
In April 2020, at the depth of the crisis, more than half of workers in this industry lost their jobs. The industry has been moving slowly out of that hole since collapse, though there has been volatility in the sector with months of loss and growth across the year. The industry remains 15.9% below pre-COVID-19 employment levels.
Some sectors have lost very few jobs: Professional and Business Services (down 1.1%), Trade, Transportation, and Utilities (down 0.4%), and Manufacturing (down 1.1%) are all very close to pre-pandemic job numbers.
Since the March 2020 COVID-19 economic collapse, the question has been “when will we back to normal?”
The economy continues to move towards the levels posted before the crisis. So normal is, perhaps, on the horizon. But “normal” for low-wage workers was unsustainable, leaving too many families struggling to get by. It is too early to know what the new ‘normal’ will be, but it is easy to identify what the new normal should hold. Working Wisconsin needs a new normal for our low-wage service jobs, with better wages, more predictable schedules, and stronger benefits. Working Wisconsin also needs a new normal with strong public health, accessible health insurance, and affordable and high-quality care for kids (with decently paid providers). These are the directions that could help solve problems so consistently documented in the State of Working Wisconsin.