The COVID-19 pandemic is the most critical issue for today’s economy, argues Erica Groshen ’77, but not far behind that is the need for trustworthy data.
“To come out of this recession well,” she said, “one of the things we’ll need is for our businesses, our leaders, our policy-makers of all kinds to have good information so that our discussions and decisions are grounded in facts we can all trust.”
Outlook for U.S. Labor Market
Groshen, a former commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), joined UW professor Noah Williams of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE), to discuss the labor market on The UW Now Livestream event on January 26. Both talked about the effect that the pandemic has had on employment in the United States in a conversation with host Mike Knetter, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association.
Williams and CROWE track employment data in Wisconsin and around the nation, and he used statistics to show how the pandemic caused an immediate negative effect on the labor market, followed by a swift bounce-back that stalled somewhat shy of recovery.
“We’re somewhere between half and two-thirds of the way out of the hole that we dug during the pandemic,” he said. “Unemployment peaked at just under 14 percent in April and has come down substantially, but it has been flat since September.”
Groshen explained that much of the reason for the swift but incomplete recovery is due to how employers and employees reacted at the start of the pandemic. Drawing on BLS data, she estimates that about 75 percent of people who were put out of work when COVID-19 arrived in spring 2020 kept some relationship with their employer. “That employer-employee relationship was why we were able to recover so many jobs so quickly,” she said. By now, however, a much smaller share of people out of work are connected to employers.
Both speakers argued that it will take a long time for the nation’s economy to return to the growth that seemed likely in 2019 — perhaps between five and eight years, said Groshen. They gave brief presentations and then took questions from viewers who followed live on YouTube. To hear more, view a recording of The UW Now. The series is offered on Tuesday nights, and the next episode will be February 2, with a special Founders’ Day episode in honor of the anniversary of the first classes held at the University of Wisconsin.