By Harvey Wasserman
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According to data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor, Wisconsin led the nation in the growth of new unemployment claims for the last week of November.
The number of claims in Wisconsin -- 4,420 that week -- was higher than the combined totals for the states with the second- and third-highest numbers of claims (2,597 for Ohio, and 1,538 for Kentucky.)
So much for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's much-repeated campaign promise to create new jobs and boost the state economy.
The federal budget deal negotiated this week by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, fails to extend emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan released a report on Tuesday showing that 23,700 Wisconsinites will lose unemployment benefits on December 28, and another 41,800 will lose benefits in the first six months of 2014 if the federal government does not reverse course.
Earlier this week, members of the Wisconsin legislature led by Rep. Cory Mason, Democrat of Racine, sent a letter urging Congressional action to extend the benefits.
"Communities like Racine still face double digit unemployment," Mason wrote. "For those laid-off workers still searching for jobs, unemployment benefits are often the only thing keeping their families financially afloat."
It appears from the signatures on the letter that only Democratic representatives joined the call for an extension, which was left out of the federal budget deal.
"I've heard from other staffers that are getting calls from frustrated constituents trying to get through on the phone to the Department of Workforce Development [which handles unemployment benefits]," says Melanie Conklin, communications director for Wisconsin Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca. "One woman today told a staffer she had called 30 times this morning and never got through. Another emailed her rep saying she was trying to return benefits she did not want to claim and has not been able to get through on the phone line for two weeks."
Conklin says she didn't think much about these anecdotes until the labor department report came out today, putting Wisconsin in first place for new unemployment claims.
"As Wisconsin legislators, we hear every day from constituents who are searching for jobs and anxiously watching time run out on their unemployment insurance benefits," Mason wrote in his letter. He said tens of thousands of Wisconsin residents and their families "are weathering unimaginable stress, uncertainty and anxiety as the expiration date of their federal benefits looms."
Photo: Flickr user Richard Hurd, creative commons licensed.