Inflation takes toll on Wisconsin unemployment recipients

Inflation takes a toll on unemployment recipients. 

"It's hard to make ends meet when everything keeps going up," Deb Bennett described.

With or without inflation, the maximum benefit for Wisconsinites out of work is $370 a week.

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"The way inflation is, $370 minus taxes, or even $370, is not easy to live on," Bennett added. "I’m not sure anyone would want to hear my opinion about that, but, it's not easy."

Bennett this week didn't get that maximum benefit, since she's working concessions downtown. The state sent her $52 for the week.

Bennett said she keeps costs down by eating at work, not having cable or car, and living on what she calls the bare minimum. She's one of 20,338 Wisconsinites the state reports filed for unemployment last week.

New unemployment numbers, out Nov. 17, show Wisconsin’s October unemployment rate was 3.3% That’s a little better than the national number of 3.7%. The state number now is where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2020, everything changed. The state, like the rest of the country, shut down businesses, schools and social activities. By April 2020, the unemployment rate in the state spiked to 14%

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In those early months of the pandemic, Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development couldn’t keep up with the volume of calls. Many unemployed people at the time called and wrote FOX6 News about the long delays, busy signals and waiting weeks and months to get their unemployment benefits.

"We’re talking life-changing things happening, because if you couldn’t get through you couldn’t find out what was going on. You were waiting two months," Bennett said. "Now, you can get through."

The state sought help, alleviating the crush of calls by turning to call centers.

On Thursday, the state’s Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council asked Wisconsinites to share their thoughts for improving the system. Only a few people spoke, with only one person brining up a suggestion: urging changes to the state’s work search requirement for those receiving benefits. In 2020, the complaints were long and many.

Now in 2022, those out of work get ready for the holidays, higher heating bills, and the long winter ahead.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the state added 58,000 jobs since October 2021. The Wisconsin Job Center lists 113 thousand job openings right now.