Wisconsin unemployment rate hits 14.1% in April

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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 state’s rate was just below the national rate of 14.7% for national unemployment. April was the first full month of the state’s “safer at home” order issued by Gov. Tony Evers in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic that forced most nonessential businesses to close and led to skyrocketing unemployment.

"What it means is that the economy has taken a pretty severe hit in a very rapid manner," WD chief economist Dennis Winters explained, "and what we're doing is, these numbers are telling us the extent of that, and we are measuring the effects of the situation through this data

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 have 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.

Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) claim some of the blame falls on Republicans for passing laws during the Walker administration that lengthened the review process for unemployment claims and added a one-week waiting period before receiving benefits.

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.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. WBAY contributed to this report.