Light at the End of the Tunnel

We've seen the worst, but it's not over. How do you stay on your economic feet?

Heather Mawhiney

Everyone knows the economy is bad and more and more people are finding themselves unemployed. The upside to the situation we’re in, however, is that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But in the mean time, there are many resources available to help you get a job (yes, even in this economy) and prepare yourself to adapt to the changes the job market will be facing in the future.

“We’re in a recession and it’s a tight market all around,” said Scott Hodek, economist for the Eau Claire Job Center. “Eventually it will get better, though. Most economists are in agreement that we probably have seen the worst of it. We’re not seeing another Great Depression, but this recession, however, won’t have a quick recovery.”

Since last year, the unemployment rate across the nation has nearly doubled, rising from 5.2 percent in May 2008 to 9.1 percent in May 2009. The state of Wisconsin is doing a little better than the national average. Across the state, the unemployment rate rose from 4.2 percent in May 2008 to 8.7 percent in May 2009. The Chippewa Valley has been fortunate enough to be somewhat insulated from the high unemployment rates across the state, rising from 3.7 percent in May 2008 to 7.1 percent in May 2009, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

    As in every recession, the industries that dominate an area and the amount of diversity among those industries can greatly affect the rate of unemployment.

“The good news is that the Chippewa Valley has a very solid economy in general and is comparatively healthy,” said Matt Pronschinske, the Business Services Manager of the West Central Wisconsin Workforce Resource. “We’ve seen a scaling back of everything in general, but not a major blow to the economy like one major company closing that our economy is dependant on or a mass exodus of smaller companies.” 

But we’re hurting just like everyone else.

“One industry that always gets hit the hardest is manufacturing. They’re always more vulnerable in a downturn,” said Hodek. “In this recession, manufacturing items that are incorporated into housing are being hit especially hard, because of the housing market – no one’s buying or building. On the upside, this area has more manufacturers in the hi-tech industry and was, therefore, not being hit as hard, because of high exports. The rest of the world didn’t recede as fast as we did, so we were still exporting, buoying us for a while. But that’s hurting now, too.”

Unfortunately, our hi-tech manufacturers have experienced some mass layoffs this year. In March, 300 people were laid off from Hutchinson Technology, a computer storage device manufacturer, according to the WI DWD Office of Economic Advisors. Lorman Education Services laid off 61 people in February, and Reinhart retail group laid off 19.

Overall, in the Eau Claire metropolitan statistical area (covering both Eau Claire and Chippewa counties), the number employed in the goods producing industry, including manufacturing, construction, mining, and natural resources, has decreased by 11.7 percent since May 2008. But we’re doing a little better than the rest of the state. In Wisconsin, the goods-producing industry decreased by 12.6 percent since May 2008, according to the WI DWD.

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