Economic Impact of COVID-19

In addition to its health impact, COVID-19 is leading to unprecedented economic disruption.  On this page we collect pieces by CROWE researchers tracking and analyzing the economic impact of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and around the world.

Survey for Wisconsin residents:

Wisconsin COVID-19 Economic Experience and Perceptions

We would like to invite you to participate in a research survey to help us understand your resilience and economic future post lifting of COVID-19 Safer at Home order in anticipation to returning to work. This study on the economic perceptions and emotional styles is conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Wisconsin’s ability to respond to the pandemic of novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) depends on collecting information on your economic experiences, perceptions and your emotional responses during this global pandemic.

Your experiences recorded in this survey will remain anonymous. No personal identifying information is recorded and no individual survey information will be transmitted to any government or health authority. Please visit the survey link for more information.

Please click here to access the survey 

or copy paste the URL below into your internet browser 


  • June 17, 2020:
    CARW Thought Leadership Series- “The Macroeconomic Outlook”
    Webinar featuring a presentation by Noah Williams. Watch Video
  • June 1, 2020:
    WRA Virtual Town Hall with Speaker Robin Vos and UW Economist Noah Williams.

updated June 26, 2020 (first posted March 24, 2020)

The effects of COVID-19 on Wisconsin’s workers and firms


Unemployment estimates by county, Current level. Kim Ruhl, 26 June, 2020.
Unemployment estimates by county, Change since Feb 2020. Kim Ruhl, 26 June, 2020.

With the repeal of the Safer at Home order, there are likely significant flows of people out of unemployment and back to work. Daily data on these workers is not available. Without a measure of this worker flow, our estimated rate will not track the true rate very well. For this reason, we have stopped updating the unemployment rate.

Estimated Wisconsin unemployment rate, daily, Kim Ruhl, 26 June, 2020.


Wisconsin initial unemployment claims, daily, Kim Ruhl, 26 June, 2020
Wisconsin initial unemployment claims, weekly, Kim Ruhl, 26 June, 2020


Market capitalization of Wisconsin public firms, Kim Ruhl, 26 June, 2020
Market capitalization of Wisconsin’s public firms, normalized so that it is equal to 100 on February 21. Kim Ruhl, 26 June, 2020.

July 3, 2020

The Economic Impact of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Ruling Invalidating the State’s Safer at Home Order

Using several real-time economic measures, this brief provides evidence suggesting a modestly positive impact of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling invalidating the state’s Safer at Home order on economic activity. In two weeks following the ruling, relative to states where non-essential businesses were shut down, Wisconsin experienced a larger increase in the number of small businesses open (7.8 ppts), net revenue for small businesses (4.6 ppts), employment of low-income workers (0.8 ppts), earnings of low-income workers (1.6 ppts), individual mobility as measured by GPS data on time spent outside residential locations (3.2 ppts) and consumer credit/debit card spending (3.1 ppts).

Two weeks after the Wisconsin Supreme Court invalidated the state’s Safer at Home order on May 13, 2020: (1) the number of small businesses open increased by 9.9 percentage points, which is 7.8 percentage points larger than its synthetic control; (2) time spent at retail and recreation locations increased by 17 percentage points for Wisconsinites, which is 13.3 percentage points more than their counterparts in the synthetic control.

June 26, 2020

Protest Dynamics: Evidence from Foot Traffic Data

Following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, there have been substantial protests in many cities around the country, and indeed around the world. In this brief I use foot traffic data to analyze the dynamics of the protests at different locations around the United States. In both Minneapolis and Washington, DC, I find protests growing in scale to a peak, and diminishing thereafter. Since early June, overall activity has dropped substantially in the zip code in Minneapolis that was at the heart of the protests, likely due to sustained damage at area businesses. In Washington, protest activity around the White House started later, growing to a peak on June 6. Activity has declined since then, but remains elevated relative to April and May, and has spiked on weekends. Overall, I find that the protests led to isolated spikes in activity at particular locations. But the protests did not substantially impact overall measures of activity in the metro areas where they took place.

Relative same-location visits for locations in Minnesota and the 55406 zip code in Minneapolis. Noah Williams, 26 June 2020.
Relative same-location visits at the Hay Adams hotel in Washington and other hotels in the District of Columbia. Noah Williams, 26 June, 2020.

updated June 29, 2020 (first posted June 11, 2020)

Business Formation during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Update #1)

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread job losses, and in addition there is timely and high-frequency data that shows a significant disruption in early-stage business formation. We find that changes in employment and labor force participation rates play a fairly limited role in accounting for business formation in “normal” times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, labor market disruptions of a truly unprecedented magnitude play a far more prominent role in explaining the collapse of business formation in the US. One of our concerns is that a prolonged decline in the labor market may have a scarring effect on business formation.

The update to the “Business Formation during the COVID-19 Pandemic” report adds the two most recent weeks of business formation data and links the state-level labor market data to business applications using the same accounting approach as the original report. Two developments stand out. First, the recovery of business applications is ongoing. In weeks 24 and 25 many, though not all states, are reporting higher numbers compared to the same weeks in prior years and, as a result, the gap in cumulative year-to-date applications is starting to shrink. The same picture emerges for the aggregate number of applications in the U.S. in weeks 24 and 25. Second, our year-on-year decomposition of 12-month growth rates in applications per person suggests that most of the most recent rise can be attributed to an increase in the number of applications per employed worker, rather than significant improvements in local labor markets. In fact, the labor force participation and employment rates for May continue to be weak by historical standards, though marginally better than the April report. The picture for the most promising business applications, the so-called high-propensity applications, is more mixed. Despite some improvements compared to the numbers reported in the original piece, the recovery of high-propensity applications is more subdued compared to the total number of applications. Put differently, there may still be room for improvement in the “quality” of new applications.

Business Applications-WI: The number of business applications in Wisconsin fell sharply between mid-March and mid-April, but has since recovered and is currently exceeding the numbers from prior years. Whether the recovery is sufficiently strong or sustained in order to completely reverse the earlier losses by the end of the calendar year remains an open question. Simeon Alder, June 29, 2020
Business Applications-US: The number of business applications in the U.S. fell sharply between mid-March and mid-April, but has since recovered. Relative to Wisconsin, the strength of the recovery is more subdued and, as a result, the gap in cumulative year-to-date applications is shrinking more gradually. Simeon Alder, June 29, 2020

Updated June 19, 2020 (first posted June 11, 2020)

The Wisconsin Economy During COVID-19: Lockdown and Reopening

This brief summarizes data on the Wisconsin economy from onset of the pandemic, through the statewide Safer at Home Order, and in the weeks since the order was invalidated. I find that there was a sharp drop in economic activity during March, which bottomed out at a 59% year-over-year decline during the week of April 12. Since bottoming out, activity recovered some through early May, with slight easing of restrictions. The May 13 invalidation of the Safer at Home Order accelerated the recovery. There have been gains in all sectors, with total activity now down 17% year-over year, closing 2/3 of the total drop. Labor market data from a sample of small businesses largely follows the same trends. By mid April more than 40% of these businesses were closed, with employment down more than 50%. There has been a substantial recovery in the weeks that followed, as now only about 10% of locations remain closed, with employment also now down 15%. Finally, I analyze data on consumer spending from weekly transactions.  After plummeting in March into April, spending in Wisconsin has recovered and is now up 1.7% over 2019. Consumption patterns shifted, with more spending on groceries and less at restaurants, and a growing share of spending has moved on-line, as in-store sales remain over 10% down.

Relative same-location visits for all locations and select industries in Wisconsin during 2020 vs. the same period in 2019. Activity has increased across all industries following the invalidation of the Safer at Home order (black vertical line). Noah Williams, June 19, 2020
Relative same-location visits for Milwaukee MSA, Madison MSA, and the rest of the state. Madison has seen a larger drop in activity due to the closing of the UW, and its slower reopening plan has led to a slower rebound. Noah Williams, June 19, 2020.
Changes in employees working, locations open, and hours worked at small businesses in Wisconsin. Roughly 40% of these locations were closed in April and 50% of hourly workers were not working, but now only about 10% of locations are closed and employment is also down about 10%. Noah Williams, June 19, 2020.
Total spending in Wisconsin and the rest of the United States, four-week year-over-year growth. Noah Williams, June 19, 2020
Total spending online and in-store in Wisconsin, four-week year-over-year growth. Noah Williams, June 19, 2020

Updated May 29, 2020 (first posted May 14, 2020)

Reopening the Economy: Early Evidence from Georgia and Wisconsin

While the data only covers the first ten days after the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, there was a noticeable increase in overall activity, which gained 7.5 percentage points in the past two weeks, closing 16% of the year-over-year gap.  The gains were particularly notable in bars (up 75%) and full service restaurants (up 64%) last weekend relative to the weekend before the decision. Total activity still remained 38% below 2019 levels, but is well up from the 59% declines in mid-April, and the recent gains suggest a growing rebound. This is particularly true in the hardest hit sector of accommodations and food, such as hotels (up 11 points, but still down 60% from 2019) and full service restaurants (up 16 points, but still down 48% from 2019).

Same-location visits for bars and full service restaurants in Wisconsin over the last three weeks (relative to April 26, 2020). Noah Williams, May 29, 2020.
Relative same-location visits for all locations and select industries in Wisconsin and Georgia during 2020 vs. the same period in 2019. Noah Williams, May 29, 2020

Current Economic and Health Indexes. May 7, 2020

Left panel: Estimated increase in unemployment rate by county (3/15/20-5/5/20, percent). Right panel: cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases by county over last 7 days (4/30/20-5/6/20, per 100,000 residents, log scale).
Current economic index and its components statewide and in the five highest and lowest counties in Wisconsin.


Current health index and its components by HERC region. 
reopening wisconsin Wisconsin COVID-19 CROWE

“On average, the counties in Wisconsin that were in worse economic condition before the COVID-19 pandemic have suffered the largest losses during the crisis.” Noah Williams, April 28, 2020.

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 May 5,  2020

Measuring proximity to others in the workplace

Most proposals to “reopen” the economy suggest a staged reopening, beginning with relatively low-risk sectors. We score industries by the need for workers to be proximate to others and find that the healthcare industry has the highest score, followed by hospitality and food service. Manufacturing and retail are intermediate and the professional and management industries have relatively low score.


Proximity scores and employment in Wisconsin. Kim Ruhl, 5 May, 2020


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Updated May 6, 2020 (first posted April 2, 2020)

Measuring Wisconsin Economic Activity Using Foot Traffic Data

“Economic activity in Wisconsin, as measured by foot traffic data, has recovered slightly over the past two weeks. Activity fell sharply though March and early April, hitting a low of a 60% drop year-over-year for the week of April 12. However there has been a partial recovery over the last two weeks, with an easing of some restrictions and a reduction in social distancing, with total activity down 45% for the week ending May 2. Retail trade led the recovery, going from down 44% the week of April 12 to down 22% last week. There was also modest recovery in accommodation and food services, health care, and finance, all of which saw relative gains of 10-15 percentage points over the past two weeks. But even with this recent rebound, activity remains far below 2019 levels.”

Relative same-location visits for all locations and select industries in Wisconsin during 2020 vs. the same period in 2019. Noah Williams, May 6, 2020.
Total same-location visits for hotels and grocery stores in Wisconsin during 2020 vs. the same period in 2019. Noah Williams, May 6, 2020.
Stay at home Wisconsin COVID-19 CROWE
Stay At home Wisconsin COVID-19 CROWE

The fraction of Wisconsinites at home all day increased by about 20 percentage points in March (Level). A comparison with its synthetic control, a weighted average of states without a stay-at-home order by the end of the month, suggests that about 20% of the increase (4 percentage points) can be attributed to the Safer at Home order (Difference). Junjie Guo, April 29, 2020.

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Consumer Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated April 23, 2020 (first posted April 16, 2020)

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across the United States, consumers have changed their spending habits dramatically. There has been a sharp drop in consumption, but also a large shift: grocery spending has risen while restaurant and especially travel spending has fallen sharply. The consumption decline overall was cushioned by increasing on-line sales. In Wisconsin, total sales were down 15% at the end of March, but in-store sales were down 30%, with online sales up 20%. Noah Williams, April 23, 2020

The aviation sector is among the sectors most heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This brief uses real-time data to track the decline in flights and passengers at a daily frequency in Wisconsin and beyond since the introduction of broad social distancing measures in mid-March of 2020. Simeon Alder, 8 April, 2020
Overall, many different indicators in the Chinese economy showed declines of 20% or more, and 30% or more relative to their pre-crisis trends, during the peak crisis month of February 2020, with substantial variation across regions and industries. Chang Liu, April 6, 2020
Under the new federal law, unemployment benefits would exceed 115% of wages on average across states, and would be much higher in some states. Noah Williams, March 27, 2020
10-30% of Workers Would be At Risk Economically When Ordered To Stay At Home, Junjie Guo, March 26, 2020
Google searches predict that initial unemployment claims will skyrocket to 1.6 million (more than double the previous record high) this week, Noah Williams, March 23, 2020
Initial UI claims increase more in states with more confirmed cases of COVID-19, Junjie Guo, March 23, 2020

Media Mentions of CROWE Research

June 24, 2020
Wisconsin Spotlight highlights CROWE’s research in “Recovering from the Lockdown” Read more

June 1, 2020
Wisconsin Business Voice Video Series: UW-Madison Professor & Director of Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE), Noah Williams discussed the economic impacts of COVID-19 in Wisconsin and our current unemployment status. Watch here

May 27, 2020
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quotes Noah Williams in “Unpaid unemployment claims top 728,000 as state Senate holds hearings on backlog” Read more

May 21, 2020
ABC News quotes Noah Williams in “Employers struggle to compete with $600 unemployment payments” Read more

May 13, 2020
 “UW-Madison’s Economists: 2022 is the Target for Return Normalcy in these Key Areas” — Mike Semmann, Executive VP/COO, Wisconsin Banker’s Association, summarizes the highlights of The UW Now Expert Panel discussion on the Economic Effects of COVID-19 in a rapid fire Q & A format. Read it here

May 13, 2020 summarizes The UW Now Expert Panel discussion on the Economic Effects of COVID-19 –“As Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is estimated to exceed 20 percent based on initial unemployment claims, rural northern parts of the state are seeing a larger impact.” Read more


May 12, 2020
City Journal “Policymakers should move toward a phased-in, regional approach to re-openings—and pay attention not only to infections but also unemployment.” – says Noah Williams in “Economic Well-being Matters, Too”. Read More

May 9, 2020
CNBC  cites Noah Williams in an article headlined “It pays to stay unemployed. That might be a good thing” Read More

May 1, 2020
CROWE Web discussion covered by The Badger Herald in “UW economist explains state of Wisconsin economy during COVID-19 pandemic.” Read more

May 1, 2020
CROWE Web discussion covered by SPECTRUM NEWS1 in “How Coronavirus Has Affected Wisconsin’s Economy,” Read more 

April 26, 2020
CNN Tonight featured an interview with Noah Williams in a story “Wisconsin’s economy hit hard by the coronavirus” by @miguelmarquez highlighting the difficulties people are facing. Watch it here.

April 23, 2020
The New York Times cites Noah Williams’s work in an article headlined “The $600 Unemployment Booster Shot, State by State” . Read more

April 18, 2020
PBS Wisconsin cites Noah Williams in an article headlined “Unemployment Claims Soar as COVID-19 Continues to Threaten Wisconsin’s Economy” Read More


April 16, 2020
The Economist cites Noah Williams’s work in an article that appeared in the Finance and economics section of the print edition under the headline “Picking off the weak”. Read more

April 10, 2020
The Daily Cardinal cites Noah Williams in “Wisconsin’s unemployment rate skyrockets ….” Read more

April 9, 2020
BizTimes Milwaukee Business News cites Kim Ruhl’s report in an article headlined “Wisconsin unemployment claims dropped last week, but there’s little room to celebrate” Read more

April 8, 2020
Green Bay Press-Gazette cites Noah Williams’s Foot-traffic data in “How many visitors did Wisconsin businesses lose because of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing? Report says 52% drop in foot traffic” Read more

April 2, 2020
City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research featured Noah Williams’s article “Thinking Past the Crisis- Federal expansion of jobless benefits is necessary but may impede recovery”. Read more

April 1, 2020
“Wisconsin unemployment rate could hit record high in the next week, economist says”. Watch Noah’s interview with @tmj4

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WMC Business Coalition COVID-19 Update

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) hosted a webinar that featured Noah Williams, Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy Director. Williams discussed the current economic trends in the state of Wisconsin as unemployment in the state surges past 14%.

Summary of Noah’s presentation at the WMC Webinar from

“We think our estimate is perhaps a little bit closer to the truth than the official one,” said Williams to a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce audiei. “The monthly state estimates are known to have a significant amount of error, there’s a relatively small sample, so they have to fill it in with a model, the model is based on older data, and this is really just a time where measurements and models aren’t working very well.” Read more

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), its trade association partners and local chambers hosted a business coalition update call on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. The webinar featured U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and an economic update from CROWE Director and University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Noah Williams.

Update on the WI economy : Noah’s slides


Summary of Noah’s presentation at the WMC Webinar from

“Everything is kind of proportional to duration, so if we extend (Safer-at-Home) another month, I wouldn’t be surprised if it hit that 27 percent and (went) beyond it,” said Prof. Noah Williams of CROWE in a Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce webinar. Read more

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) hosted a business coalition update call that featured a federal update from U. S. Rep. Bryan Steil (WI-1st). Additionally attendees heard from Marcus Corporation President & CEO Greg Marcus, University of Wisconsin Professor and Director of the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy, Noah Williams, and Wisconsin Medical Society CEO Dr. Clyde “Bud” Chumley.