Claim-Filing questions in Wisconsin as of June 2022

Here is some updated information on the claim-filing questions in Wisconsin. You can find prior versions of these questions at this October 2020 post, which has the questions that existed as of September 2020.

This info is based on the Department’s initial claim questions that are available here, and the weekly certifications questions that are available here. These web pages have been consolidated into single PDF files:

Keep in mind that you file an initial claim when you have suffered a job loss. An initial claim, however, does not pay you any unemployment benefits.

To be paid benefits for a particular week, you must then file a weekly certification that shows you meet all the eligibility criteria — able and available for work, searching for work, willing to accept any jobs offered you, not missing any work available to you, reporting all wages or pay for any services you have performed for another, and reporting other kinds of pay — for being paid unemployment benefits for that particular week.

This additional information being asked of you is why the weekly certification process is longer and more complicated. Any mistakes you make with the weekly certification questions will be presumed fraudulent, unless you can show that the mistake was not your fault (i.e., that you relied on mistaken advice from a Department representative). Keep in mind that the Department adjudicators doing any investigation are likely to be prosecuting you for those mistakes, and not actually listening to you.

So, keep you own records of what is told you and what you file (save PDFs of your own initial claims and weekly certifications as you file them by selecting that option at the end of each claim).

Work requirements, wages, and jobs

Debt ceiling talks are focused on abstract “work requirements.” What these actually mean are not described in any detail. The unstated presumption is that people who receive government benefits do not work in some way because of those government benefits.

In reality, these “work requirements” do not make any sense. Unemployment, for example, is based on being able and available for work, not missing any work offered, a willingness to accept any jobs being offered to someone, and searching for work for each week unemployment benefits are being claimed.

Note: Unemployment is also not a employee benefit at all, but an employer insurance premium paid by employers to maintain consumer demand for an employer’s products.

Medicaid — health care coverage — occurs when someone is ill and needs medical care when that person lacks access to health insurance on their own. When people are ill, they should probably not also be trying to work. Forcing sick people to work simply makes no sense whatsoever. How does an elderly person in a nursing home suddenly have the ability to work?

Food stamps, or SNAP benefits, are to provide minimal groceries so that a person can live. These benefits do not pay the rent or put gas in the car, however, and so people who get SNAP benefits still need to work. Moreover, for the most part SNAP benefits are geared to children, and children under the age of 16 generally should not be working at all but going to school or summer camp or, if pre-school aged, being cared for their parents or in childcare.

Which gets to the biggest problem in how the parents of young children can enter the workplace — available and affordable child care. Child care simply is not nearly as available and as affordable as it needs to be in this state.

Work requirements as currently being proposed do not accomplish an actual increase in available workers and are generally a cynical effort just to cut benefits for those at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Why this push to make life harder for those with the least resources does have an economic motivation, however: to reduce wage growth and even to make wages decline.

Until recently, when boomers began leaving the workforce, wages in Wisconsin were stagnant and flat. The administrative sludge and hurdles created for unemployment claim-filing pushed people out of unemployment completely and into low-wage jobs as a substitute for unemployment benefits.

So, by making life harder for those receiving Medicaid or SNAP benefits, presumably the number of folks desperate for any kind of low wage work will expand. With this increase in the labor supply, the theory here is that there will be less pressure on all employers to raise wages in order to attract workers, simply because there will be more workers to chose from.

It is a terrible way to run a country. It also ignores the real reason why there is a shortage of workers in the first place: boomers are retiring and leaving the workforce completely. The administrative sludge for unemployment claim-filing may have worked for a time in Wisconsin in keeping wage growth in check relative to what happened in other nearby states like Minnesota, but this expansion of the sludge to other kinds of government benefits will not be nearly as effective now.

In Wisconsin, unemployment claim-filing is at record lows and declining even further at present. Yet, wages in the state are finally rising as employers attempt to find workers for more and more vacant jobs. Unemployment benefits simply do not matter anymore in a labor market where everyone who can work is already working and there are still major shortages in available workers. As a result, various proposals to make unemployment claim-filing even more difficult are essentially meaningless.

So, all of this work requirement discussion is going nowhere, other than to harm those with the least resources available to them. Wages will continue to increase. But, without available and affordable childcare, parents of infants and preschoolers will have to chose between being parents or being workers — a choice no modern society and one of the wealthiest countries to ever exist should be forcing on anyone.

Yet, in Wisconsin legislators are rejecting efforts to make childcare more affordable. So, nothing is being fixed or made better. At some point, people in Wisconsin will realize that there are opportunities and support for a better life in neighboring states like Minnesota and leave this kind of stupidity in Wisconsin behind.

Update (30 May 2023): A possible deal has been reached, and David Super has the scoop on what this resolution means.

Jobs, the debt ceiling, and recession

The month of May is going to be eventful, as either a deal on the debt ceiling will be reached (i.e., raising it) or a massive recession and possible economic calamity will strike. Or, just maybe we will get a combination of both because a giant coin or issuance of fancy debt called premium bonds will not resolve all the worries in the world about the United States no longer paying its debts from previous expenditures.

Layoffs, whether few or many, will follow pretty quickly, simply because businesses will lack access to any funds for making payroll.

And, unemployment benefits — the main mechanism available to the government for fighting a recession — will NOT be available. Despite unemployment benefits being paid for by unemployment taxes that employers pay (and Wisconsin having over $1.2 BILLION in its trust fund as of March 2023), the actual trust funds for all US states and terrotories are managed by the federal government. So, come June 1st, all of these trust funds in Wisconsin’s may no longer be accessible for paying out unemployment benefits to anyone.

The irony here is that unemployment claim-filing in Wisconsin continues to disappear. As noted previously, claim-filing in Wisconsin set a new record low in 2022, and that pattern was continuing into 2023:

In 2022, new record lows for claimants paid benefits and for initial claims filed in the state were set. Initial claims in 2022 were roughly 89% of the number of initial claims filed in 2019, and paid claimants in 2022 were under 90% of 2019 levels. And, this trend of ever declining unemployment has continued into 2023. As of week 13 of 2023, initial claims are running at around 84% of 2022 levels. So, 2023 is likely going to set still another record low for initial claims and in benefits paid to claimants.

As of week 18, initial claims in 2023 are running at 86.7% of 2022 levels, so the spring weeks of April and May seem to have hit the minimum number of initial claims in Wisconsin given the size of the state’s workforce.

In other words, unemployment claim-filing no longer practically exists in Wisconsin. Around 3,500 initial claims a week out of workforce of around 2.8 million workers for which unemployment taxes are paid — 0.1% — is a paltry amount that hardly even registers. Job growth continues to be climbing nationally, and in Wisconsin. So, the labor shortage in the state is because there is an actual shortage of workers.

If we fail to fix the debt ceiling, however, hundreds of thousands of workers will soon need unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, because the debt ceiling has not been fixed, unemployment benefits will NOT be available to all of those suddenly out of work, making the resulting recession that much worse.

Update (16 May 2023): Brookings offers a useful explainer about what the debt ceiling is, what is being done right now to pay off debts, and why not fixing the debt ceiling is BAD.

Update (23 May 2023): Jean Ross at the Center for American Progress has additional information on what a debt ceiling crisis could mean. Through my own contacts, it seems that states with positive balances in their unemployment trust funds will still have access in the first weeks of any debt ceiling crisis to those funds to pay out unemployment funds. As the unemployment trust fund in Wisconsin is nearly $1.5 billion as of April 2023, the first few weeks should mean that unemployment benefits are available in this state at least. So, a change in the text above has been made by striking through the NOT in unemployment benefits NOT being available in Wisconsin during the first few weeks of a debt ceiling crisis.

Update (30 May 2023): A possible deal has been reached, and David Super has the scoop on what this resolution means.

The November 2022 public hearing

At the January 2023 meeting of the Advisory Council, the Department presented the public testimony from the November 2022 public hearing. As has happened in the past, there was no discussion or examination of that testimony.

Note: Examination of the last three unemployment public hearings and the testimony provided in 2020, 2018, and 2016 are available: Recap of the 2020 public hearing, Advisory Council meeting — 17 Jan. 2019, and Winter work search concerns.

Here is what the official minutes of the January 2023 Advisory Council meeting state:

Ms. Knutson stated that the Public Hearing was held by WebEx on November 17, 2022, in afternoon and evening sessions. An email box was available for comments. Comments could also be sent by US mail.

Ms. Knutson stated that 40 people attended the WebEx meeting. Ms. Knutson stated that a summary of attendees’ comments can be found in members’ packets.

Mr. Gotzler asked if there were common themes.

Ms. Knutson stated common themes included UI benefit increases, the decrease of the duration of benefits, what constitutes a valid work search, and benefits for migrant workers.

The actual testimony of 47 pages and a summary table indicate that there were numerous, detailed concerns raised in this public testimony.

For instance, Barbara Santiago raised questions about why job centers were being closed rather than kept open in order to provide essential in-person claim-filing and job assistance to claimants. Ms. Santiago even pointed out the statutory requirements for keeping those job centers open. And, Ms. Santiago pushed for mis-classification penalties for workers to be expanded to all occupations from just construction trades right now.

Ann McNeary pointed out how job search requirements as implemented right now are ineffective and cumbersome. Harry Richardson explained that the claim-filing process is too confusing and complicated, that in-person support and hearings need to be re-instated, and that contracted out claim-filing support was more than problematic.

Jason Childress of Foley and Lardner and others from Spaulding Clinical pushed for laboratory test subjects to be excluded as employees (that the subjects in a laboratory test are NOT performing any services for pay for the laboratory).

An administrative law judge even pushed for the number of initial determinations, especially in concealment cases, be reduced so that filing an appeal is easier to do and understand. At present, not all initial determinations are being appealed, which is leading to conflicting decisions/issues that cannot easily be resolved.

Legal Action of Wisconsin presented lengthy and detailed concerns on numerous issues involving migrant workers, including work search requirements for workers expected to return to their same employer (see Winter work search concerns), access barriers to claim-filing are not computer problems at all, and denials of over-payment waivers where there is no claimant filing fault.

There were also complaints from a few employers — G&G Lumber, Greenscapes, State Theaters, and an astroturf entity called Wisconsin Independent Businesses — about job search requirements needing to be enforced more rigorously in order to push people from unemployment into the labor force. As noted for a group of bills again being proposed, these requirements already exist; the problem employers are having with hiring has nothing to do with unemployment — claim-filing set a new record low in 2022 and is on pace for another record low in 2023 — but with a labor force that is shrinking.

As with the prior public hearings, however, none of this testimony will apparently have any impact with the members of the Advisory Council. Sigh.

The legal and illegal unemployment collections in Wisconsin

A person contacted me about his unemployment debt of around $15,000 (generally a low amount for the cases I am seeing). There was nothing that could be done about that debt other than to repay it. But, there were some issues in his case that everyone should be aware of.

The first thing to know are what the Department will do to collect an unemployment debt.

Department collection tools

The Department will apply the following mechanisms to collect any over-payment, whether the over-payment is related to a charge of fraud or not, to collect unpaid unemployment debts.

Note: None of these collection efforts should occur while an appeal to an administrative law judge or the Labor and Industry Commission is pending. Unfortunately, these collection efforts often occur regardless of any appeal. And, warrants and tax intercept notices have even been issued within days of the first initial determinations, before any appeals can even be filed. In such circumstances, immediately contact collections and inform them that an appeal has been filed and that you are waiting on a hearing or decision. If collection efforts continue despite the pending appeal, the Department is violating federal law.

  • Offsets against future unemployment benefits you claim are the main mechanism available to the Department. Note, if fraud/concealment has been charged, however, these offsets will be Benefit Amount Reductions, and so the actual unemployment debt and concealment penalties will have to be repaid some other way.
  • Repayment plans should be used whenever possible. Collections staff will agree on paying a lesser amount — what you can afford for six month periods of time. Then the entire remaining amount will be due. If you have not won the lottery in the meantime, Collections staffers will subsequently agree to another six-month repayment plan. That process will continue to repeat.
  • Warrants (aka property liens) will be appear when the unemployment debt is large or when repayment is not happening regardless of the amount. Note, despite the use of the word “warrant,” these notices are not actual arrest warrants but property liens that affect your credit rating. Because warrants are public documents, however, others learn about them and will try to take advantage of the situation (more on this problem below).
  • Intercept of state tax refunds are applied for in generally all cases, even when a payment plan is in place. There is little you can do to fight these, other than to leave Wisconsin so that you do not file state income taxes anymore.
  • Intercept of federal tax refunds are limited by law to over-payments created by the misreporting of wages by a claimant or alleged fraud/concealment. But, the Department routinely ignores this restriction and issues notices to intercept federal tax refunds for any kind of unemployment debt. If that happens to you, you should immediately protest this illegal debt collection.
  • Wage garnishments almost never happened ten years ago but now are routinely used if there is no repayment plan and the Department discovers that you are working (through the unemployment taxes that employers file each quarter with the Department). These garnishments will be for 20% of your wages.
  • Levies of bank accounts in Wisconsin will occur if there has been no repayment activity for several months. Any Wisconsin bank account with your social security number attached to it will be subject to a levy, and the Department will take as much as needed to repay the debt, except for a base $1000 in the account.
  • Bankruptcy is NOT an option, as the Department monitors all bankruptcy filings nationwide and will intervene in any action to make sure that the unemployment debt is NOT written off via bankruptcy.
  • Criminal prosecution is likely for any fraud-related over-payments for which debt collection has not happened for a year or more. See Criminalizing unemployment benefits (27 Nov. 2018), and The targeting of African-Americans for criminal prosecution continues in 2020 (10 Feb. 2020). Over 70% of these cases were against African-Americans.
  • Over-payment waivers are available IF two conditions are met. First, you need to have been found NOT at fault for the over-payment. Being found not at fault is exceptionally rare, however. Here is some claim-filing data from 2018 and 2019 that explains just how common claimant error is.
                                                                   2018           2019
Initial claims                                            279,912        287,022
Claimants paid                                        130,710        129,888
Claimants paid/initial claims                 46.70%         45.25%
Benefits paid                                  $402,315,700   $394,247,432
Non-fraud over-payments assessed   $8,202,583       $8,614,761
Non-fraud over-payments collected   $9,419,356     $9,230,066
Non-fraud cases                                        44,634         41,197
Non-fraud cases/Claimants paid             34.15%         31.72%

In other words, one out of every three claimants who filed a successful, paid initial claim in Wisconsin in these two years ended up having to repay unemployment benefits because of a non-fraud claim-filing mistake. Because they were “at fault” for a claim-filing mistake, they were automatically precluded from any kind of waiver.

This statistic also indicates that claim-filing mistakes are rampant and that a vast number of claimants cannot successfully navigate the claim-filing process without making an error. A system this error-prone is not a well-designed system in the first place.

The second condition varies based on the kind of benefit at issue. For regular unemployment benefits and EB benefits, that other condition is departmental error. See McKay v. Always Construction LLC, UI Hearing No. 13604640MW (13 Sept. 2013) (failure in the unemployment tax case to answer the questionnaire could not be applied to the benefits case, and so there was no claimant fault; and so eligibility in benefits case had no legal or factual basis, so there was departmental error).

For federally funded benefits paid out during the Covid-19 pandemic — PUC ($600 supplemental benefits in 2020 and $300 supplemental benefits in 2021), LWA ($300 FEMA payments for six weeks in 2020) PEUC (extensions of regular unemployment benefits in 2020 and 2021), MEUC ($150 supplemental benefits for independent contractors who were nevertheless collecting regular unemployment benefits or PEUC benefits), and PUA (benefits for pandemic-related job losses to those not eligible for regular unemployment benefits) — the other condition is whether you qualify right now for an equity and good conscience waiver. See also the waiver form and this spreadsheet as a substitute for the third page of the waiver form.

Non-Department collection scams

The person who contacted me had already had a collection warrant/lien filed against him in December 2022 by the Department. I encouraged him to enter into a payment plan for that unemployment debt. In March of this year, he received eight notices about that unemployment debt (click on the image to see a full-sized version).

First collections notice
Second collections notice
Third collections notice
Fourth collections notice
Fifth collections notice
Sixth collections notice
Seventh collections notice
Eighth collections notice

All but the seventh notice — DWD’s actual repayment plan notice — are fraudulent. By law, the Department cannot negotiate or settle any claimant unemployment debt. Even if the Department writes off an unemployment debt as noncollectable for accounting purposes, the Department will never actually stop trying to collect.

Note: Sadly, the only way to stop debt collection by DWD — other than repayment — is death.

So, the promise in these notices to settle the claimant’s $15,000 debt for $1400 or so has no basis in fact or law. These notices, in other words, are scams and should be avoided.

Legislature pushes a bunch of no-reform unemployment proposals

Update 17 April 2023: I testified at the committee hearing on April 12th for most of these bills. For some unknown reason, my written testimony has not been included in the committee materials for any of the bills.

Updated 12 April 2023 (added links to various policy briefs from NELP and a quotation from the 2023 fraud report).

With the April 2023 election, an incredibly general, state-wide advisory ballot question about people on welfare needing to work passed by wide margins.

The Wisconsin legislature has taken that passage as a message to suddenly revamp and fine tune unemployment eligibility without actually fixing any of the problems with unemployment claim-filing in this state.

First some background.

It is vital to know that unemployment claim-filing is now in 2023 much, much different from what used to occur.

Year    Claimants Paid Benefits     Initial Claims
2007    332,982                     638,548
2008    386,574                     736,245
2009    566,353                   1,125,127
2010    530,886                     826,872
2011    445,538                     722,018
2012    366,829                     613,667
2013    312,325                     550,050
2014    233,129                     488,472
2015    197,070                     423,858
2016    168,006                     385,405
2017    144,727                     305,813
2018    130,710                     279,912
2019    129,888                     287,043
2020    603,459                   1,202,700
2021    295,249                     529,476
2022    116,302                     263,248

As this data reveals, claim-filing in Wisconsin had plummeted just before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. In 2018, there was a record low of initial claims filed by individuals, and in 2019 there was a record low in the number of people who were paid unemployment benefits in Wisconsin.

Compare these numbers with what existed in 2007, a “normal” economic year when initial claims and weekly certifications were around 10 questions each and could be filed via a phone call. In that year, there were 638,548 initial claims, and 332,982 claimants were paid benefits that year (more than one out of every ten workers received unemployment benefits that year).

Obviously, the Covid-19 pandemic reversed that trend. But, that reversal was incredibly short-lived. In 2022, new record lows for claimants paid benefits and for initial claims filed in the state were set. Initial claims in 2022 were roughly 89% of the number of initial claims filed in 2019, and paid claimants in 2022 were under 90% of 2019 levels. And, this trend of ever declining unemployment has continued into 2023. As of week 13 of 2023, initial claims are running at around 84% of 2022 levels. So, 2023 is likely going to set still another record low for initial claims and in benefits paid to claimants.

At the same time that unemployment claim-filing has declined and declined and then declined some more, the labor force in Wisconsin has been relatively stagnant and unchanging throughout this time period.

Claim-filing in WI, 2007-2022

In 2007, there were 2,732,290 workers in Wisconsin, and in 2022 there were 2,754,514 workers, an increase of only 22,224 after 15 years.

So, unemployment has become less and less an issue for Wisconsin workers. The data right now indicates that the vast majority of claims are filed in the winter months, when scores of businesses like landscaping, road building, some construction, and others cannot operate because of winter conditions.

Into this picture of unemployment claim-filing comes the state legislature now with a bunch of sticks to beat over the head of the few people still seeking unemployment benefits. Here is a rundown of these proposals.


This bill provides new ways to disqualify claimants for misconduct for:

  • any damage to employers’ property and records done unintentionally, by accident,
  • possible violations of employers’ social media policies, and
  • violations of employers’ absenteeism policies pursuant to Beres.

This expansion of Beres and accidental damage raise a serious risk of Wisconsin employers losing their FUTA tax exemption, because the misconduct penalty of lost wages in a benefit year can only be applied to intentional employee conduct.

As noted by the Commission in its briefing in Beres, this employer-determined misconduct for non-intentional absences (in both Beres and Stangel, the employees were absent because of illnesses over which they had no control) ran the risk of Wisconsin being found by the US Department of Labor to no longer be in compliance with federal requirements for unemployment. That lack of compliance could well lead to Wisconsin employers losing a tax credit and seeing their federal unemployment taxes jumping from a 0.5% to 7.0% tax rate — quite a jump.

As to the social media violation, this proposed change is basically incomprehensible. As written, this proposed statute makes any social media violation by an employee into misconduct. Accordingly, any employer discharge for a social media policy can now subject an employee to a misconduct disqualification. Hence, this provision is also likely to put state employers at risk of losing their FUTA tax exemption.

AB147 also mandates that employees with combined wage claims (also called interstate claims) who live outside of Wisconsin must register with the job center in their state. The problems with this proposed change are two-fold. First, the Department already requires claimants to do this registration. Second, this requirement ignores the fact that not all states and territories have job registration systems. Indeed, Minnesota, just next door, has no such requirement or system. As a result, Wisconsin is requiring claimants to do something that cannot actually be done in a state that lacks a job center like Wisconsin’s.

AB147 continues with still more nonsense. At present, the Department audits about 10% of all work searches. This proposal wants to increase the number of work searches being audited to 50%. As a result, it would either require the Department to quintuple its workforce or force current employees to do nothing but work search auditing.

Finally, in a pique over the PUA and MEUC benefits and supplemental PUC benefits that were made available during the pandemic, the legislature wants the Joint Committee on Finance to have a voice in whether similar funds and benefits become available in the state in the future. As evident here, the legislators simply fail to understand that Wisconsin has a partial wage formula that encourages people to work while claiming unemployment benefits. Indeed, raising the benefit levels and removing the current $500 cap would probably lead to more people working while collecting unemployment, not less. Apparently, basic economics is not needed for unemployment legislation.


  • Requires the Department to allow employers to report people who do not show up for interviews, who declines a job interview, who miss an interview, who miss work, or who fail to return to a job after being recalled. The Department, however, already encourages employers to report this information. See, e.g., Refused Work, Work Available with Current Employer, and Report Unemployment Fraud. All of these employee actions would also lead to a loss of benefits, IF the person was claiming benefits at the time.

So, this portion of the bill changes nothing that it purports to do. Claimants who fail to attend a job interview for reasons that do not relate to illness or finding another job are likely to be found ineligible for benefits and perhaps even guilty of fraud/concealment. Indeed, this proposal actually makes claim-filing less onerous by allowing a person to have one such report as NOT counting against their eligibility (when right now, all such reports are investigated and ineligibility found if the claimant lacks the required legal justification).

Furthermore, this proposal ignores the fact that claimants are already doing four job searches a week in an economic climate where employers are desperate for finding employees to hire. Accordingly, employees may well find new jobs and skip interviews or offers to return to jobs after finding new jobs that pay more. And, as shown already, in 2022 and 2023, claim-filing is at record lows. In short, this proposal pretends that the labor supply is growing and that there are numerous unemployed people looking for jobs while claiming unemployment benefits, when the claim-filing data indicates the exact opposite.

  • Require the Department to provide various employer information in its fraud reports and job search information to claimants.

This proposal adds: (a) some mandatory employer-reporting information to future Department Fraud Reports about missed job interviews and the like to the Department, and (b) a requirement to provide claimants with vital work search information that they now have to search for on their own.

As NELP points out, work search requirements have become an incredibly effective mechanism for keeping benefits out of claimants’ hands. Job searches themselves are easy, but the online-only reporting requirements are difficult to satisfy. As the 2023 Fraud Report at 6 reveals:

In 2022, DWD completed 22,012 work search audits. The audits resulted in 9,045 adverse decisions with benefits denied, including when claimants failed to conduct four valid work search actions. An additional 27,404 adverse determinations were issued for failure to answer the work search question or failure to provide required information on the weekly claim before the claim paid.

Nearly 28,000 claimants in 2022 (out of 263,248 initial claims, or one out of every nine claimants) lost out on benefits because they did not supply required job search information in the first place, even before an audit took place. When one out of every nine people fail to finish something, that reporting requirement is, by definition, NOT easy and understandable.


This bill is a repeat of the re-employment bill from the previous session, and is still misguided, liberal, big government intervention into micro-managing people’s work lives.


This bill appears to be a Department-sponsored initiative and mandates things already being done by the Department or which the Department would like to do.

  • Identity verification — mandates identity verification for claimants (currently based on Wisconsin-issued IDs).
  • Mandatory unemployment training for employers that are free to attend and videos for claimants. What should be required here is that the Department again mail out printed copies of the claimants’ handbook rather than just a sheet of paper — a claim confirmation — with a URL for the handbook on it.
  • Expanded call center hours whenever there is a declared state of emergency or call volume has increased by 300% from the previous level of a year ago. At present, numerous claimants are reporting to me that 15-20 phone calls a day are all leading to busy signals, so perhaps an increase of 50% should lead to expanded call center hours.
  • Mandatory comparison with death records, new hire reporting, and prison records on a weekly basis. The Department already does this cross-match, though delayed by weeks or months.

What should be required is that DWD be mandated to do cross-matches with the quarterly unemployment tax reports the Department receives from employers in April, July, October, and January of each year for all weekly certifications filed during the previous four months (the Department’s current practice is to do a cross match on employer’s quarterly unemployment tax reports from nine to twelve months after the weekly certifications have been filed).

The Department should also be mandated to do cross-matches with employer’s payroll tax withholding reports submitted to the Department of Revenue on a monthly basis. In this way, any over-payments of unemployment benefits would be minimized to a month or less. Moreover, employers would no longer need to submit UCB-23 Wage Verification/Eligibility reports, as the Department would already have this information from the wage/tax withholding reports from the Department of Revenue.

  • Unilateral transfer of administrative law judges from other state agencies to DWD for handling unemployment hearings.

Rather than hiring and training attorneys properly, the Department wants to force attorneys who handle environmental regulation cases, discrimination matters, or workers compensation cases into hearing and deciding unemployment cases. What the Department should be focused on is adequate training and hiring, not another kind of quick fix. As I have pointed out elsewhere, the skyrocketing number of denials and over-payments is largely because of inadequate information available to claimants. So, getting claimants educated with concrete, specific advice in place of legalisms so as to avoid all the denials in the first place is what is needed here.


This proposal seeks to limit the number of weeks of unemployment benefits available according to the state unemployment rate. An unemployment rate of 3.5% or less would mean only 14 possible weeks of unemployment benefits would be available. Only when the unemployment rate was higher than 9% would the full 26 weeks of benefits be available.

This proposal fundamentally misunderstands how unemployment works and why it exists. Unemployment benefits are not something that workers earn. Rather, unemployment is an insurance benefit for maintaining consumer demand for which employers pay a premium, based on their experience rating. As explicitly stated in Wis. Stat. § 108.01 (emphasis supplied):

(1) Unemployment in Wisconsin is recognized as an urgent public problem, gravely affecting the health, morals and welfare of the people of this state. The burdens resulting from irregular employment and reduced annual earnings fall directly on the unemployed worker and his or her family. The decreased and irregular purchasing power of wage earners in turn vitally affects the livelihood of farmers, merchants and manufacturers, results in a decreased demand for their products, and thus tends partially to paralyze the economic life of the entire state. In good times and in bad times unemployment is a heavy social cost, directly affecting many thousands of wage earners. Each employing unit in Wisconsin should pay at least a part of this social cost, connected with its own irregular operations, by financing benefits for its own unemployed workers. Each employer’s contribution rate should vary in accordance with its own unemployment costs, as shown by experience under this chapter. Whether or not a given employing unit can provide steadier work and wages for its own employees, it can reasonably be required to build up a limited reserve for unemployment, out of which benefits shall be paid to its eligible unemployed workers, as a matter of right, based on their respective wages and lengths of service.

(2) The economic burdens resulting from unemployment should not only be shared more fairly, but should also be decreased and prevented as far as possible. A sound system of unemployment reserves, contributions and benefits should induce and reward steady operations by each employer, since the employer is in a better position than any other agency to share in and to reduce the social costs of its own irregular employment. Employers and employees throughout the state should cooperate, in advisory committees under government supervision, to promote and encourage the steadiest possible employment. A more adequate system of free public employment offices should be provided, at the expense of employers, to place workers more efficiently and to shorten the periods between jobs. Education and retraining of workers during their unemployment should be encouraged. Governmental construction providing emergency relief through work and wages should be stimulated.

(3) A gradual and constructive solution of the unemployment problem along these lines has become an imperative public need.

In other words, unemployment is a lot like automobile insurance. The more accidents you have (i.e., more layoffs and claims), the higher your insurance premium. And, just because a driver may have been “accident-free” for some time does not mean the driver should then cut coverage — especially just before the driver hits a busload of school children on the highway. This proposal is essentially pretending that Wisconsin will forever in the future be “accident-free.”

NELP has some excellent information on unemployment financing and why limits on the number of weeks makes no sense and is actually harmful:

Business interests often overlook the vital stabilizing effect UI has on local economies, even though this is also a foundational purpose of the program. UI is an automatic stabilizer: by temporarily replacing some of the lost wages of unemployed workers, it automatically fuels overall economic demand when private spending declines during a national recession or local downturn. Cutting benefit duration reduces this stabilizing function, making layoffs more harmful to the economy.

Darth Vader with light saber tilts the scales of justice to his benefit

Department investigators are NOT true and accurate

At almost every unemployment hearing there will be document in the hearing packet that pretends to be a claimant statement. This “statement” pretends to represent what the claimant told a Department investigator in a phone call, and at the hearing the administrative law judge will almost always ask the claimant, “Is this statement true and accurate?”

Note: Many people tell me about their phone interviews being recorded. Phone interviews are never recorded, because then the pretend claimant statements describe here would not be possible.

No, a claiman statement is not true and accurate. It never is. If the statement was true and accurate it would be a transcript of the phone conversation. Or, it would at least be the original notes, without any editing, of the entire and complete phone conversation (and so qualify, for legal purposes, as contemporaneous notes, when the person who wrote those notes testifies at the hearing).

What these “claimant statements” are actually are just pretend confessions, as the only information in these statements is the information the investigator wants to include to establish the claimant’s fault or mistake.

To understand what is going on here, below is a claimant statement/confession prepared by Department investigator Anastasia-1437 and then the contemporaneous notes written by the claimant herself during that phone conversation (the claimant was a former paralegal, who made it a habit to take notes of her phone conversations with Department staffers).

Pretend claimant statement

Note: Outside of changes to names and identifying information, below is a verbatim copy of the claimant statement.

6/28/22: I call it the claimant at 8:30 AM, identify myself, indicated that I received a call from her and am presuming it is due to the “Call Me” letter that I have sent her, identify the issues and requested that the call me back no later than 8:30 AM on 6/30/22. I indicated that if she does reach my voicemail that she please leave a message indicating the best times to reach her. I provided my name, title and telephone number and explained that if I did not hear from her by the deadline, a determination will be made based on best available information.

6/28/22: I understand Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provides for the repayment of all overpaid benefits, penalties, and that I may lose Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or be referred for prosecution if it is determined I made a false statement, misrepresentation, or omitted facts in order to receive benefits not due.

I understand that the statement I am making will be used to determine my eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits. I understand that any false statement I make may result in overpayment of benefits, penalties, loss of future unemployment benefits and possible prosecution.

My name is CLAIMANT. My date of birth is XX/XX/59 . I have a Master’s Degree in YYYYYY/years of education. It was a long time ago but think that I have read the “Notice to All PUA Applicants” and “PUA Rights and Responsibilities.” I filed my own claims. I live in Walworth County. I filed my claims online from Walworth County.

I have refused the notice that you have sent me and the wages, vacation pay and holiday pay from ACME CORP looks accurate and the wages for one day of work with the GROVER’S CORNERS are accurate.

The claimant was asked why she did not report the work and wages, vacation, and/or holiday pay in each of the weeks in which she worked and/or received vacation pay and/ or received holiday pay when filing her weekly claims for PUA benefits.

Let me explain this… I have a voice studio [MARIA CALLAS Productions Inc] which is my main source of income and I only work at ACME CORP to get health insurance. I work full time at ACME but only get paid $13.50 per hour which is far less than what I make in my voice studio. Because of COVID-19, I was unable to give voice lessons because the schools have closed due to the pandemic. Even now, we may plan and an event but we have COVID outbreaks and place is still closed down. My business never recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

I explained to the claimant that I was not questioning as to why she filed for PUA benefits; my question is different. I explained that in order to receive pua benefits weekly, the claimant has to file a weekly claim certification in which each week she is asked if she worked in employment. I explained that in each week in which she worked for ACME CORP and/or GROVER’S CORNERS She reported that she did not work in employment and certified each week that her responses were accurate and correct.

I understand what you’re saying. I misunderstood and I thought they were only talking about my studio, my self-employment.

Explained to the claimant that the weekly claim certification system asks two questions; it asks if she worked in employment and separately asks if she worked in self-employment in which she answered no to both and asked why she answered no to both.

It was an honest and stupid mistake. I was filing for PUA for my business only, not for the job where I worked full time and I thought they were asking about my business, my voice studio [MARIA CALLAS Productions Inc].

I have nothing further to add; I have no questions

Contemporaneous notes (what was actually said)

Note: Outside of changes to names and identifying information, below is a verbatim copy of the claimant’s contemporaneous notes.

6/28/22 — 42 minutes, 35 seconds.

An adjudicator arranged a telephone conversation with me at 8:30 AM. Her name was Anastasia. We exchanged greetings and then she notified me that she was calling to discuss the benefits that I applied for and received through the PUA Unemployment Program. She told me that this conversation was to determine if I made false statements, omitted facts in a fraudulent manner, etc.

I asked her if the conversation was being recorded and she said no. Then I asked if I was being accused of a crime and should I hire a lawyer to represent me before I had any further discussions with her. She stressed that that would not be necessary, that she was just collecting information at this time, that there was no determination against me.

She asked me why I didn’t report my employment at ACME Corp.

I told her that I had never tried to conceal my job at ACME and all she had to do was read my initial application for PUA benefits and she would see that I had ACME listed as an employer.

I went on to explain to her that my small business was my major source of income and that was shut down as soon as the schools and universities were shut down- that I was a sub-contractor at those schools. I pointed out again that this was explained in initial application.

She said that they weren’t questioning if my small business was legit . . . and I interrupted her and said I hope not because during my initial application, I had to upload several years of tax returns to prove my business was legit.

She said that no one was questioning my business MARIA CALLAS Productions existed and that I definitely qualified for PUA benefits.

She then explained that I didn’t qualify to be paid any benefits because I was working at ACME.

Then I asked her then why was I paid?

She replied that I answered specific questions incorrectly and therefore was concealing the fact that I was working full time at ACME.

I asked her what question did I answer weekly that is being considered concealment?

She read me a question that I explained to her after was always unclear to me and I answered it in accordance with the facts of my business that was shut down. There was never any intent to conceal facts in order to collect the $173.00 per week.

She said that it was my responsibility to read and interpret correctly the PUA Rights and Responsibilities.

I told her that I had read those and that they were also unclear and left me more confused than before so I started calling PUA agents several times (9 all together) to ask them to interpret the rules of PUA — specifically about my situation with the ACME job. Each and every one of these agents — who supposedly are professionals and know PUA benefits thoroughly — told me that I should keep claiming weekly just like I had that the ACME job was totally separate from PUA benefits. That PUA was being paid to me for my lost self-employment.

Anastasia said that that was most unfortunate, but unfortunately, I, the claimant, was responsible for knowing what to do, not the agents.

I got angry and said, Are you trying to tell me that your agents aren’t responsible for giving the correct answers to the claimants?

Then she got nervous. And gave me an 8-minute speech on the conditions for the workers at Unemployment. “CLAIMANT, I have been working 7 days a week since the pandemic started in 2020. I was here before the pandemic. No one could have been prepared for what happened and how we were grossly under-staffed and how our technology was way outdated to handle the numbers of claims that came in on a daily basis. We had to hire scores of workers and we had no time to train any of them. It usually takes one whole year to fully train a worker here. What we ended up doing is training groups of people for a part of the system and then other groups for another part of the system and so on. So none of these new workers could begin to answer questions outside of their area that they were trained. The best one could do is transfer the call to another new agent, hopefully that was trained in the area that the claimant needed to get info.

I interrupted her and told her that on one of the calls I made, I talked to three agents and never got my question answered.

She said, yes, that she believed me. Then I asked her — then why are you trying to accuse me or charge me with concealment when I just told you that I tried to get the correct instructions from your department.

She told me that it all came down to how I answered the questions.

I said but the question wasn’t clear. The questions are not clearly stated. She said that she disagreed with me.

I asked her if there were other PUA claimants that were tripped up on some of the questions and also answered regarding their self-employment. I said you know Anastasia, a lot of people have two jobs, it is very common. Especially with single people.

I then asked her if any suits had been filed against the DWD Unemployment Dept. for giving false information, or not being able to give any information, or for harassment and punitive damages to an already terribly stressed and financially devastated population of self employed and small business owners.

She said she wasn’t aware of any such suits.

And I said, I believe that there may be some in the future. I think what has happened today is illegal, unethical and down right criminal. If you ask me the State is trying to get their money that they gave during the pandemic to pay for the new computer system they had to get because the one they had was not able to handle the number of claims. WI made us wait much longer than other states to get our first payments which made great hardship on many folks. And now WI is going to get it all back and jack up a lot of fines so they can get even more money. Shame on them. And Anastasia, you are wrong, I do need to lawyer up. Big time.

She replied, Oh no not necessarily. Lawyers are very expensive. Look you need to go to your portal and appeal everything. I’m sure if you do, you can represent yourself and have the concealment lifted because you did not intend to conceal. I believe that, CLAIMANT. I figure they’ll drop also drop all of the 40% penalties as well. I figure you will be looking at around $6000.00 that you’ll have to pay back.

I said, Hm, that’s about what I got paid all together. She said yes, you shouldn’t have been paid anything because you were working at ACME.

I said, I wish I’d quit claiming when I couldn’t get a straight answer. Well, I have to get back to work. And she said that she did too but she had decided to retire at the end of this year. She said that the stress was getting to her because she was one of the very few that actually knew the system and the workload was killing her.

I said good luck and happy retirement. I have to go back to work but I will appeal every count against me and I will hire a lawyer.

The takeaway

Naturally, the claimant was charged with concealment, and supposedly owed $29,992.20 ($20,223.00 in PUA, LWA, and PUC benefits she was paid + $9,769.20 in concealment administrative penalties). But for her contemporaneous notes and the fact that she had other notes of when she told Department staffers about her work at ACME and they told her to ignore that work when filing PUA claims the concealment allegations were tossed at the hearing.

But, notice what Anastasia is doing in her “claimant statement.”

First, she presents a statement that the claimant has complete understanding of what is going on. Second, Anastasia establishes that the claimant is highly educated and has no disabilities, so cannot claim a lack of understanding in some way.

Third, Anastasia sets forth that the claimant provided wrong information on her weekly certifications, namely wages that went unreported.

Fourth, Anastasia indicates that the claimant understand that she failed to report wages accurately.

For the Department, unemployment fraud — aka concealment — is now established. That is all that is needed, as far as the Department is concerned (for why, see The profit in unemployment concealment.

But, Anastasia — being an experienced investigator — goes a step further and “engages” the claimant on why wages were not reported correctly. The confession for having fraudulent intent is this quotation:

It was an honest and stupid mistake. I was filing for PUA for my business only, not for the job where I worked full time and I thought they were asking about my business, my voice studio [MARIA CALLAS Productions Inc].

For the Department, the admission of an unintentional/negligent claim-filing mistake, for purposes of unemployment concealment, establishes an intent to commit fraud.

Of course, this admission is fabricated and what was actually said during this phone call was much, much different. In place of this alleged confession, the claimant presented solid evidence about how she told Department staffers about her work at ACME and was mistakenly told by them to NOT report those wages and hours of work when filing her weekly certifications for PUA benefits. Anastasia was not interested in that information about how the claimant was misled by the bad advice of Department staffers, however. Anastasia’s goal was to draft a “confession” to committing unemployment fraud, and so that is what Anastasia drafted.

At the hearings in these cases, administrative law judges are trained to follow the same agenda that Anastasia is following: the claimant understood what was going on, the claimant provided wrong information, the claimant admitted to being responsible for that wrong information, and the claimant was negligent. Should the claimant admit at the hearing to the “claimant statement” being true and accurate, the case is closed, and that is why claimants are almost always asked at these hearings about these statements being true and accurate. Without that admission, a “claimant statement” does not count as any actual evidence.

The saddest part of this episode is that what Anastasia did here is all too common. Indeed, the “advice” Anastasia offered about how the concealment charges would easily be dismissed at a hearing and that legal representation was completely unnecessary is something I often hear from claimants about these investigations. The only unique facet to what happened here is that the claimant herself took contemporaneous notes of her conversation with Anastasia and so could present those notes at her hearing about what really was said.

Note: And, those notes allowed the claimant to recall the details of that phone conversation that had taken place months prior to the unemployment hearing.

So, all parties to the unemployment process need to understand that truthfulness and accuracy are NOT the responsibility of the Department. As a result, you need to track independently what information is told to you and to be prepared to challenge at any time what a Department investigator or administrative law judge is telling you about what “actually” happened.

Claim filing after the pandemic

In late 2022, it is time to see what has happened in Wisconsin with unemployment claim-filing.

Note: The charts presented here are from the Unemployment Insurance Data Explorer, which takes DOL unemployment data obtained from the states and provides a quick way to see what this data means.

Why claims are denied

First, some basic facts need to be introduced. Far too many people think that unemployment claims are approved or denied because of a dispute over a job separation between employee and employer.

That has not been the case since the Great Recession, however. Since before 2014, most initial determinations have denied a claim for reasons that have nothing to do with a job separation reason.

Wisconsin separation and non-separation denial reasons from 2013 to 2022

The green line on this chart shows the proportion of initial determination denials that are based on a job separation reason. From 2013 to 2015, roughly 20% of denial reasons were because of a dispute over the job separation. By 2016, that percentage was down to just over 10% and stayed there until the pandemic. Then the percentage climbed steadily to around 30% of all denials. This increase was because the Department examined all lay-offs arising from the pandemic for a prior disqualifying separation within a claimant’s benefit year to find a reason for denying that pandemic-related layoff claim. Yes, even though experience-rating charges were supposed to be waived during the pandemic, the Department still looked for disqualifying reasons from a prior job loss in which to deny eligibility.

So, with the pandemic now over, denials based on separations have declined markedly. With the hot job market, separation reasons are now below 10%.

So, the real story of why claims are denied has nothing to with a dispute between employer and employee over the job separation. The red line showing non-separation reasons is where most denials now happen. In 2013, over 40% of the initial determinations denying a claim were for reasons that had nothing to do with a job separation, and this percentage began climbing steadily due to new job search requirements, the move to on-line only claims-filing for initial claims and weekly certifications, and confusing and legalistic guidance about claim-filing. By 2016 to 2017, that percentage had climbed to 60%, but fell back down to just over 50% by 2018 (with no change in the law, election year anyone?). In 2019, still without any changes in law, the percentage began climbing again and was back at around 60% when the pandemic started. Yikes.

With the pandemic, this percentage declined back down to 2013 levels of just over 40%. In 2021 and 2022, however, there has been a rapid rise in these non-separation denial reasons, and Wisconsin is back at around 60% of all initial determination denying eligibility for non-separation reasons.

So, for many years now, the hurdle for eligibility has had little to do with job separation reasons and much to do with satisfying Department claim-filing requirements.

The true significance of the role of non-separation reasons can be seen in what happens per initial claim.

Note: An initial claim is what a claimant files to report a job loss for which he or she wants to claim unemployment benefits. No benefits are paid, however, based on an initial claim. Claimants must then file weekly certifications (called continuing claims in other states) for each week they want to be paid unemployment benefits. Because initial claims start an unemployment claim, they measure job losses and the claimants affected by those job losses. Weekly certifications, on other hand, only measure the number of people still successfully filing unemployment claims or who are still seeking to file such claims.

Wisconsin separation and non-separation denial reasons by initial claim from 2013 to 2022

Outside of a slight dip in the pandemic and a recent increase in 2022, the green line for separation reasons hardly changed at all. The red line for non-separation reasons, however, began to nearly double in 2015 from 25% to almost 50%. By 2018, this denial rate for initial claims had declined slightly to just over 40%. And, there was a steep decline that began in 2019 just before the pandemic struck, and that steep decline continued into the pandemic, such that in 2020 the denial rate was almost the same as the denial rate for job separations. Since then, however, the denial rate for non-separation reasons for initial claims has sky-rocketed and is nearing 80% by the end of 2022. Together with the separation denial rate for initial claims climbing slightly to 15% at the end of 2022 (a seasonal climb every fall because, you know, winter), nearly 95% of initial claims were being denied at the end of 2022. Wow!

Just what are non-separation reasons

So, separation reasons (misconduct, substantial fault, or quitting a job without good cause) are not why the Department is finding the vast majority of claimants not eligible for unemployment benefits. The real reason the Department is finding claimants not eligible for unemployment benefits has to do with non-separation reasons.

Non-separation reasons usually are reasons directly related to a claimant not satisfying Department-mandated eligibility requirements. Other than an increase in job searches (from two to four in 2011) and the Department-initiated end of winter work search waivers, these mandates have been unchanged legally since before 2010. What has changed significantly is how the Department has implemented these requirements. Here is what has been happening since 2013.

[Wisconsin non-separation denial reasons by determination from 2013 to 2022

The red (able and available for work), yellow (satisfying job search requirements), and green (other) have gone up and down dramatically over the past ten years.

Since 2016, able and available requirements have led to nearly 30% of all determinations being a denial. This large number of denials is happening because the Department ignores its own legal requirements for determining able and available.

Since 2015, denials because claimants fail to satisfy job search requirements have hovered over 40% and even over 50% except for a rock-like drop at the end of 2021 (discussed below). The job search requirements are leading to all of these denials through a combination of factors, notably the fact that all job searches must be reported on weekly certifications, and that mandated RESEA training and job registration are on-line only, even though the on-line guidance and assistance for accomplishing these goals are meager at best.

Other denial reasons — a catchall category — was at an over 40% denial rate in 2013, but declined steadily to around 15% by 2017 outside of a significant bump to around 25%/30% when the pandemic started. This denial category has been declining since then, however, and is approaching 10% by the end of 2022.

The impact of these changes can truly be seen when looking at these reasons per initial claim.

[Wisconsin non-separation denial reasons by initial claim from 2013 to 2022

Both the job search (yellow line) and able and available (red line) plunged when the pandemic started, only to begin steep climbs in 2021. By the end of 2022, able and available reasons were leading to the disqualification of nearly 25% of all initial claims and job search issues were leading to the disqualification of over 45% of initial claims. These two reasons alone account for approximately 65% of all initial claims being denied at the end of 2022.

To understand just what is going on with these numbers, here are Wisconsin’s actual numbers for the second quarters of 2020 (57,466 initial determinations issued) and 2022 (59,564 initial determinations issued).

[Wisconsin non-separation denial reasons for 2nd quarter of 2020 and 2022

Update 23 April 2023: Replaced numbers nearly impossible to read with a graphic of those numbers. Click on the numbers to see a larger version.

Thousands of claims were denied at the start of the pandemic because claimants failed to register themselves at the jobcenter website. See “Missed job center registration” at Unemployment delays, part 2. While Wisconsin waived actual job searches, the state did not waive this registration requirement, and so far too many people had their claims denied for this reason. With this data, we now have a number for those denied for failing to register: more than 33,000. Only at the end of 2020 did the Department realize this job registration snafu was its own fault and stopped processing denials for this reason for a short time (until job searches were re-instated). What happened in mid-2020 was an tidal wave of determinations on this one issue of failed job registration.

By the second quarter of 2022, job search requirements and RESEA training were back in place, so job registration is again just one of many ways a claimant can be disqualified. When they complete these requirements, an initial determination finding them eligible as of the date the requirement is completed is issued. Hence, there are thousands of initial determinations now finding claimants eligible after they are originally denied eligibility for a few weeks.

As obvious in this data, a great deal of work and effort by both the Department and claimants is being spent on these requirements because claimants do not understand what is required of them in the first place.

And, as for the able and available disqualifications, in these situations the Department is simply ignoring its own law and applying a disqualification as it understands it — a claimant must be able to work 32 or more hours in a week in order to qualify for unemployment benefits — rather than what the actual requirements pursuant to unemployment law are — a claimant must be able to work as many hours in a week as physically or mentally capable of working, and will be able and available for work even if that number is less than 32 hours in a week. Most claimants in Wisconsin with a disability are being denied eligibility for no legal reason.

Overall, what this data shows is that the vast majority of people in Wisconsin filing unemployment claims today are being denied eligibility, and these denials almost always are based on claimants failing to satisfy Department claim-filing requirements. That is the story of unemployment in Wisconsin.

Darth Vader with light saber tilts the scales of justice to his benefit

Unemployment public hearing in 2022

The Department has announced three hours of public hearing on November 17th from 2 to 4 pm and from 5 to 6 pm for unemployment comments and feedback.

Prior registration for a specific session is required.

Comments can also be submitted by e-mail message to, an e-mail address that will only be active from November 9th to 18th.

Comments by regular mail can be mailed to:

Janell Knutson, Chair
Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council
P.O. Box 8942
Madison WI 53708

While not stated, it is apparent that these comments MUST be received by Nov. 18th.

Note: In either written or e-mailed comments, do NOT include social security numbers, birth dates, or phone numbers. As indicated below, no one from the Department will be following up with you, and these public hearing comments are not the forum for hoping that someone will address issues directly connected to your specific situation. In these public comments, you can explain your situation or the situation of others and how unjust or ridiculous it was and what needs to be fixed with claim-filing in general.

Past public hearings have seen an outpouring of public commentary. The 2016 public hearing was the first opportunity for public comment on the end of winter work search waivers.

A total of 295 people provided 307 comments by letter, e-mail or at the public hearing. The department received the majority of correspondence by letter (158 letters) or through e-mail (123 emails). A total of 51 people attended the public hearing in which 19 people testified, 6 people testified and provided written correspondence and 1 person registered an opinion, but did not speak. A majority of the correspondence was specific to an employer or industry and contained the same text. A tally of the comments showed 246 comments received related to [winter] work search waivers for recalled employees.

There was no reaction or recommended change to these hundreds of complaints at the Advisory Council meeting when these comments were presented, other than an explanation later posted on the Department’s work search FAQ (that has since been removed; PDF of original available here):

What is the policy basis for the requirement change?

The requirements are a result of a change in DWD’s administrative rules. These rules not only bring Wisconsin in line with more than half of all U.S. states and reaffirm the purpose of UI as delivering short-term assistance, but they also respond to employer concerns regarding the solvency of the UI Trust Fund’s balancing account. The change assures that Wisconsin’s UI law conforms to the federal requirement that state UI programs provide for an experience-rated UI tax system. This ensures fair and equitable financing of the payment of benefits among employers. By encouraging employees to find employment during their industry’s off season, fewer benefits are paid. This assists employers who have negative account balances and are taxed at the maximum UI tax rate. DWD, with the support of three separate committees in the Wisconsin State Legislature, restored the waiver limits that were in place prior to their repeal in 2004.

In short, winter work search waivers were ended because this change reduced the available unemployment benefits to claimants and so, in turn, reduced the unemployment taxes employers pay (less benefits paid means employers’ unemployment tax rates do not increase or even decline, since unemployment tax rates are based on the benefits paid out to the employees of an employer).

The 2018 public hearing was a tepid affair, with winter work search waivers again attracting the most attention.

As compared to the public hearing in November 2016 in which there were 300+ comments from 295 individuals, at the 2018 public hearing there were only 21 comments in toto. Given these few comments, the summary presented to the council at this meeting included not only a summary but the actual 21 comments that were made.

The November 2020 public hearing, on the other hand, was raw, emotional, and upsetting.

Numerous attendees indicated that Department staffers are hostile to claimants by always doubting what is being told to them, and that the whole process is simply dehumanizing. More than few attendees had to stifle tears in the midst of their testimony, in light of their anguish and desperation.

Questions cannot be answered, these attendees indicated, and answers when provided are too often contradictory. As one attendee described, the burden of proof is on her, and she is presumed to be attempting to scam the system until she can show by clear and convincing evidence that her claim for unemployment benefits is forthright.

The picture painted in this testimony is a Department no longer functioning as an unemployment agency but instead as a kind of welfare office trying to correct the “immorality” of claimants who want unemployment benefits rather than a job.

The enormous delays in eligibility determinations, how obvious pandemic-related claims were being denied, language and technology barriers to claim-filing, the SSDI eligibility ban, winter work search waivers, and the confusion between eligibility based on PUA benefits versus regular unemployment benefits also drew widespread concern and outrage at this public hearing.

Members of the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council received these 2020 public hearing comments at their January 2021 meeting. By August 2021, that outpouring of grief and outrage had still led to no action or even acknowledgment from council members:

To date, a Department summary and the actual written comments from the November 2020 public hearing were reported to council members at the 21 January 2021 council meeting. There has yet to be any discussion or even acknowledgment by council members of the concerns raised at that public hearing.

So, at present, while I encourage everyone concerned about unemployment to testify at the November 2022 public hearing coming up, I fear that all of that testimony and commentary will still be for naught. The last three public hearings have in general been ignored, and there is no indication that this practice will change suddenly.

Jobs data, unemployment, and a lack of wage growth

Jake has been providing excellent coverage about the current economic and jobs data and how wage growth here was been more of an illusion than a reality.

In July 2022, Jake reported that unemployment in Wisconsin has been at record lows — below 3% — but that job growth is stagnating.

What this indicates to me is that things are actually still very healthy in Wisconsin’s jobs market, but we still can’t find enough people at publicly facing service jobs to have a typical round of Summer hiring. Some of this may be wage-related, but I also think it is due to a demographic issue that the state has been dealing with for several years.

This is something touched on by the Wisconsin Policy Forum as part of a wider discussion of the changes in the state’s jobs market in the COVID era.

“In the past, we have discussed how Wisconsin’s aging population, low birth rate, and lackluster net migration figures have led to a reduction in the working-age population (here defined as individuals between the ages of 18 and 64). The Wisconsin Department of Administration projects the state’s working-age population will remain roughly the same size – if not decline slightly – until at least 2040.

“Indeed, from 2010 to 2019, Wisconsin’s working-age population declined by 1.0%. While the state’s overall adult population (ages 18 and older) is growing year-over-year, there is a much more rapid increase in those over the age of 65. In other words, Wisconsin’s residents are reaching a typical retirement age at a much faster rate than they are entering the workforce, shrinking the overall labor pool. On top of that, the pandemic caused more people to retire at earlier ages, and it is still unclear to what extent those retirees can be lured back into the workforce.”

All of this information indicates we have a state that seems to be maxed out on workers, and needs to find ways to attract more people to come here.

As confirmation of these findings, Jake previously noted that job growth in construction and manufacturing in Wisconsin has also been stagnating.

As Jake described in June 2022:

But even with another 54,500 jobs added in the state since May 2021, Wisconsin’s 1.9% rate of job growth is less than half the 4.5% rate of growth the nation has seen in that time period. And with 2.9% unemployment in a state that has labor participation more than 4% above the national average, it makes me wonder just how many more jobs can be added in the state today.

* * *

It also tells us that the longer-range challenge for the state is to get people to locate to a cold-weather place that traditionally hasn’t paid as much as nearby big markets like Chicago or the Twin Cities.

And, in May 2022, Jake was reporting about “gold-standard” job numbers in Wisconsin that:

So what the QCEW tells me is that our state still has jobs left to gain, but our 2.8% unemployment and relatively low population growth might mean there isn’t much more to gain back. The monthly jobs reports have been positive so far in 2022 (up by nearly 30,000), but let’s see if that growth in wages can start matching the US rate, and can keep workers ahead of the rising prices that we have seen in this year.

Like Wisconsin, Minnesota also has been experiencing record low unemployment. The Economic Policy Institute discusses this low unemployment rate in Minnesota and what it may actually mean.

First, the number of jobs that exist now is still less than what existed before the COVID-19 pandemic.

And yet, every single one of these states still had fewer jobs in June than before the pandemic. EPI’s Economic Indicators page shows that the United States is still down 524,000 jobs from its pre-pandemic peak. If we account for population growth over the last 2.5 years, the country has 3 million fewer jobs than we would expect if pre-pandemic trends had continued.

Second, labor force participation — the number of people working or looking for work, called an LFPR — is also down from what existed prior to the pandemic.

In Minnesota, the LFPR in February of 2020 was 70.8%. This was considerably above the national average of 63.4%, reflecting Minnesota’s strong employment numbers. By June of 2022, however, Minnesota’s LFPR had dropped 2.3 percentage points to 68.5%. That is larger than the national drop of 1.2 percentage points, from 63.4% to 62.2%. This means that while there is a historically low share of Minnesotans who say they’re looking for work and can’t find it, there is also a substantial share of adults in Minnesota who, since the pandemic hit, are no longer working and not looking for work. In fact, Minnesota’s decline in labor force participation from February 2020 to June 2022 is the 9th largest in the country.

Third, inflation is disconnected from these employment and unemployment numbers.

EPI’s Josh Bivens has explained in detail how current high levels of inflation are the result of global supply-chain problems caused by the pandemic and corporations exploiting the situation to extract larger profits than normal. If low unemployment was a primary driver of inflation, we would see an increase in wages above the rate of inflation, but the opposite is happening. Wages, far from contributing to price increases, are lagging behind price increases, and wage growth is decelerating significantly.

Fourth, the sectors of strong job growth are areas that are attracting new employees who previously were not looking for work at all.

In June, 73.1% of people who were newly employed were not counted as part of the labor force the month before. That is, according to the data, nearly three-quarters of the people who got a job in June weren’t looking for a job in May. This strongly suggests that there are many people interested in re-entering the labor force if there are good jobs available to them, jobs that allow them to balance work and care responsibilities, and jobs that adequately protect their health and safety.

Fifth, job growth, then, is highly dependent on policies that make what a few employers are doing to make work more flexible and to offer higher pay into a baseline for what all employers offer their employees. These policies include:

  • expanded social and economic supports for child care and elder care
  • criminal justice reforms that prevent arrest and conviction records from being used to deny employment opportunities
  • economic support for affordable housing where jobs are located

Indeed, racial and ethnic disparities in job growth continue to exist at staggering levels.

Unemployment for Black workers continues to run nearly twice as high as that for white workers, and Hispanic workers have an unemployment rate 30% higher than white workers. These disparities persist—in both employment and wages—even when controlling for education and qualifications.

Sixth, because there is no actual connection right now between wages and inflation, higher wages in general are still urgently needed.

Simply put, higher wages attract people to the workforce. For example, shortages of teachers, school bus drivers, and other education employees are directly tied to the low wages of those jobs. States must also set higher wage benchmarks for home health care workers, too, as demand for those jobs is set to skyrocket in coming years. Additionally, supporting workers’ rights to organize unions is a vital tool in building a strong economy for all Americans.

Last, but by no means least, the minimum wage needs to be increased. Many states and cities have increased their minimum wages in recent years, with no discernible impact on the price of gas and oil, food, cars, or semiconductors. A federal $15 minimum wage would lift wages for tens of millions of low-wage workers across the country. In terms of purchasing power, the federal minimum wage is at its lowest level since 1956.