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Milwaukee Economist Says That The Economy Can't Get Better Until COVID-19 Is Under Control

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As Milwaukee's economy has struggled through the pandemic, economist Scott Adams says that any effort to help the economy won't work unless it helps control the virus.

Local economies across America struggled through 2020. The coronavirus pandemic brought many businesses to a grinding halt and has kept many people out of a job.

UW-Milwaukee professor and chair of the economics department Scott Adams says Milwaukee is struggling along with everyone else and is not doing much better or worse than comparable cities. 

Though for economists, COVID-19 has made it harder to track how the economy is actually doing. It can be difficult to track specific trends like unemployment because you can't see who has lost a job and is still looking for one or who has been forced out of their job in order to take care of a child doing online learning or a sick member of their family.

Compared to the Great Recession in 2008, this coronavirus recession has moved much quicker.

“The Great Recession was sort of a train wreck that you saw coming from 100 miles away and it was slow and painful, and the recovery was slow and painful, this was just fast and sudden,” he says.

For Adams, the quick nature of this complete halt to major sectors of the economy should have made it easier to fix. He says actions like the CARES Act that gave money to individuals and businesses that had been affected were exactly what the economy needed. He says even if there were hiccups, that money was what was going to save people’s businesses and the economy as a whole.

Now he says not enough help was provided to keep the recovery going and he fears the unequal nature of this recession could mean sufficient action doesn’t come.

“There are a group in the economy who have savings, that have job security and they look at this as more, and I’m afraid they look at this pandemic as more of an inconvenience but there are people’s whose lives have been exploded,” he says.

Debt relief and moratoriums on evictions are actions that Adams sees as necessary to keep the economy running and keeping people financially stable enough that they can afford to spend money.  

When trying to forecast the future of the economy in Milwaukee, he looks to the effectiveness of public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 and begin the vaccination process because the economy can’t get better if the virus isn’t under control.

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Jack Hurbanis started as the WUWM Digital Intern in January 2020, transitioning to Assistant Digital Producer in July and Digital Producer in January 2021.