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Wisconsin Spotlight | July 13, 2020

MADISON — Wisconsin fared much better than other states that issued stay-at-home orders, thanks to the state Supreme Court’s ruling ending Gov. Tony Evers’ lockdown, according to a new study.

Using real-time measures, the report, by the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, found “broad evidence” suggesting positive impacts from the 4-3 ruling, issued on May 13. The study tracks the two weeks immediately following the decision. 

“…(M)ore small businesses were open, employment and earnings were rising faster than before, and individuals were more likely to spend time outside their home and to spend with credit or debit cards,” the study’s author Junjie Guo wrote. “The acceleration was particularly significant for sectors closely related to accommodation and food services, which had been most affected during the pandemic.”

Guo compared Wisconsin to the District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — all states that forced the shut down of “nonessential” businesses as the pandemic struck. They all reopened before May 27. 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling immediately ending the Evers administration lockdown as opposed to the slow reopening of the other states, increased the number of Wisconsin small businesses opening by 7.8 percentage points, net revenue for small businesses by 4.6 percentage points, and consumer credit/debit card spending by 3.1 percent, according to the study. 

A report last week by the U.S. Commerce Department found the Badger State’s economic output contracted by an annual rate of 5 percent in the first quarter of the year. That includes March, when the pandemic first hit and Evers, later in the month, issued his lockdown order. 

Wisconsin, according to the Commerce Department, was on pace with U.S. gross domestic product declines but performed better than other Great Lakes states during the first three months of the year. 

Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, told Wisconsin Public Radio the drop “is significant in a normal year, but frankly not as bad as I feared it was going to be.”

Still, the impact was felt all over the economy, particularly in the hundreds of thousands of jobs the pandemic and lockdown claimed. 

“Qualitatively, the evidence suggests the state’s Safer at Home order was binding, and its invalidation contributed to the state’s economic recovery,” Guo wrote. 

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