Virus Outbreak-Wisconsin Legislature

A worker leaves the the Frank P. Zeidler Municipal Building in Milwaukee. Gov. Tony Evers asked President Donald Trump on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 to issue a major disaster declaration for the state of Wisconsin due to the coronavirus pandemic, as unemployment claims hit a daily high and the state's health secretary warned lawmakers that Medicaid enrollments were going to increase dramatically. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's unemployment rate hit 14.1% in April, a level not seen since the Great Depression, the state Department of Workforce Development reported Thursday.

The rate skyrocketed from 3.1% in March, mirroring national trends due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was just below the national unemployment rate of 14.7%. April was the first full month of Wisconsin's “safer at home” order issued by Gov. Tony Evers in reaction to COVID-19 that forced most nonessential businesses to close.

While unemployment has soared, so too has criticism from Republicans over the speed in processing claims for benefits. As of Monday, more than 2 million weekly claims had been filed since March 15, but more than 675,000 had yet to be paid. Republican lawmakers have called for Evers to more quickly add staff and expand Workforce Development's hours to process the claims.

State officials have said they are working hard to process claims in the face of unprecedented demand. There were more than 4.2 million calls to the state's unemployment division last week alone.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court last week ordered an end to the stay-at-home order, resulting in a patchwork of local ordinances governing when businesses can reopen. Some businesses have moved more quickly than others to resume operations and hire people back.

“Today’s report shows the significant impact that the COVID-19 global pandemic has had on the Wisconsin economy, and underscores the importance of rationally and safely reopening our state,” Caleb Frostman, secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development, said in a statement.

Wisconsin lost nearly 386,000 private-sector jobs from March to April, the latest report said. Compared to the year before, Wisconsin lost nearly 402,000 private sector jobs.

Applications for temporary unemployment assistance in Wisconsin declined during the week ending on May 16 as the U.S. economy bore the weight of growing virus fears, according to a release Thursday from the U.S. Employment and Training Administration. The number of applications submitted in Wisconsin during the week ending May 16 fell to 31,314, a decrease of 19% from the number of applications submitted the previous week.

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