Monday, December 1, 2008

Unemployment claims up in Wisconsin

Unemployment claims up in Wisconsin; benefits fund may run empty in 2009

By Patrick Thornton
For the Wausau Daily Herald

New unemployment claims are growing at a rate of 30 percent from last year, and the state likely will run out of money to pay benefits by early next year.

Wisconsin has an estimated $374 million in the unemployment insurance reserve, money used to pay displaced workers who qualify for unemployment benefits. For the first time since 1982, the state will need to borrow money from the federal government to make payments, said Dick Jones, a spokesman for the state Department of Workforce Development.

The fund is supported by money from employers, but there is more money going out in this weak economy, Jones said. During the week of Nov. 17, the state received 17,591 new unemployment claims, up 6,500 from the same week last year.

"We have been consistently saying that the country is in the middle of a major economic crisis, which presents major challenges for all of us," Jones said. "And things may get worse before they get better."

People who qualify for unemployment will continue to receive payments. This week, Gov. Jim Doyle extended the time someone can collect unemployment. The state pays for 26 weeks of unemployment, and the federal government will pay for an additional 20 weeks.

Louis Rozner was laid off in October after 25 years working for the town of Plover. At 55 years old, he worries he is too close to retirement age to be attractive to a potential employer.

"I'm still in shock, a month later," he said. "I'm looking for work, and there's not a lot out there, from what I'm finding."

Sally Cutler, executive director of the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board in Wisconsin Rapids, expects more layoffs after Jan. 1. But she said job loss can be an opportunity.

"For people who weren't working at their full potential, it's a chance to regroup and assess their skills and get some new training to help them get the positions that are out there," she said.

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