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Rosy, or smoky economic glasses?

Wisconsin State Roundup

July 1, 2008

Rosy, or smoky economic glasses?

If you're not a particularly close reader of the news, but saw the recent drop in unemployment rates, you might think the Wisconsin economy has turned the corner. In April, the state's unemployment rate dropped to 4.4 percent, almost a half-point better than the national average, and the lowest April rate in Wisconsin of any year since before the 2001 recession.

But other news and data suggest that the state continues to struggle economically. For example, the state counted almost 19,000 fewer jobs this past April than the year before. The disparity in economic measures most likely stems from different survey methodologies. And there could also be demographic or other explanations: For instance, baby boomers are reaching retirement age, and there might have been an uptick in worker retirements, voluntary or otherwise.

But the preponderance of evidence suggests Wisconsin has not yet sprung from any slump. On a monthly year-over-year basis, manufacturers have lost jobs for 18 consecutive months, according to news accounts. In March, federal figures also showed that the state saw a 10 percent increase in food stamp enrollment—or 16,000 new users—from the previous March.

Ronald A. Wirtz