Despite little action seen at the federal level, Wisconsin officials are confident in the state’s ability to provide support for the unemployed.
The U.S. Senate failed to approve a bill Jan. 15 that would have extended unemployment benefits to the roughly 1.4 million people whose eligibility expired Dec. 28.
As a result of the vote, an additional 72,000 Americans will lose their benefits each week, according to a statement from U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison.
However, John Dipko, a spokesperson for the state Department of Workforce Development, emphasized unemployment in Wisconsin has reached a record low of 6.3 percent since its highest levels in December 2008 in an email to The Badger Herald.
According to Workforce Development, current unemployment insurance claims in Wisconsin are down nearly 2 percent from the same time last year.
“Wisconsin is lower than the national average, and we’ve actually been making some good gains in job growth in recent years,” Mark Maley, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, said.
Despite such gains, Maley said working to improve the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is still important. He said the WEDC works closely with the Department of Workforce Development to run programs that work to give residents access to jobs.
For example, one joint project works with major trucking companies to train new drivers and reach out to currently-licensed truck drivers to meet the demand.
According to Maley, the problem is a demand for truck drivers exists, but there is not enough skilled labor to meet that demand.
“How we see our role in reducing unemployment at WEDC is to work primarily with businesses to encourage them to grow and expand and relocate in Wisconsin,” he said.
Maley said the biggest success so far has been getting Amazon to build a $200 million distribution center in the city of Kenosha.
WEDC offered the company $7 million in tax credits to fund the project, which is expected to create 1,100 long-term jobs.
“The best way to get people working is to provide assistance to companies that are thinking about expanding and might need government assistance to do that,” Maley said.
In addition to working with corporations to lower unemployment, Maley said WEDC also works with the University of Wisconsin System to provide opportunities for graduates and make sure they are prepared to enter a highly-skilled workforce.
Dipko added those looking for help should visit local job centers, and encouraged job seekers to register online with JobCenterofWisconsin.com to create job-matching profiles and build their resumes.
“[Although] Congress has not approved an unemployment insurance benefits extension at this time, our employment and training system remains committed to helping any Wisconsinites who are out of work, including those who have been unemployed long-term, to reach the independence of finding new employment and supporting themselves and their families,” Dipko said.
Maley said he hopes the production of skilled workers would ultimately work to reduce unemployment in the state.