Corona-nomics

How is the economy faring under extraordinary stress?

A Memorial Union crew member serves a Terrace patron while both wear masks.

According to the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy, the state’s reopening has been uneven. Jeff Miller

If you’re having a hard time picturing the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Noah Williams can help you out.

Williams, a professor of economics and director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE), has been tracking the state’s economy closely since the pandemic reached the university. And CROWE graphs the data out and posts those charts online, giving snapshots of Wisconsin’s recovery week by week.

“We’ve always been tracking the official data,” Williams says, “but we’ve tried to do really high-frequency updates beginning in the middle of March. There was a lot of damage happening, and if we didn’t post frequently, we were afraid we’d miss a lot of what was going on.”

Throughout the pandemic, CROWE has been collecting data not only on unemployment and retail sales, but also on employee working hours, foot traffic in Wisconsin’s bars and restaurants, spending at online and brick-and-mortar stores, and more. The center estimates that the state’s unemployment rate peaked at 21.5 percent in May, and Williams believes that reopening has been uneven.

After the state’s Safer at Home order was lifted shortly before Memorial Day, economic indicators began trending upward again, Williams notes. But for some industries, the dip was so low that it may take a long while to fully recover.

“Things went down so fast in March and April,” he says. “It was much worse than we were expecting and much worse than initial reports. But in the following months, I suppose we were due for some upside
surprises.”

CROWE’s reports and data are available online at crowe.wisc.edu.

Published in the Fall 2020 issue

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