Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

The state’s unemployment rate soared to 14.1 percent in April, reaching a level not seen since the Great Depression.

According to a release from the state Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate in April was 0.6 percent lower than the national rate of 14.7 percent.

The massive increase comes after the state was experiencing near-record low unemployment rates, with 3.1 percent in early March. More than 385,000 private-sector jobs were lost over the course of a single month, according to DWD.

“The economy has taken a pretty severe hit in a very rapid manner,” said DWD Chief Economist Dennis Winters in a media briefing today.

He explained the state’s unemployment rate approached 10 percent in the Great Recession of 2008, just under the national rate at the time. Winters also said the state didn’t see current levels in a previous recession in the early 1980s.

“The closest is the Great Depression … when they figured the unemployment rate was around 25 percent,” he said, adding that the depression of the 1930s built up over the course of months and years. “This is a totally different phenomenon.”

In early April, DWD had projected the state’s unemployment rate could reach as high as 27 percent. But based on the most recent information, Winters said “the odds of that are less than 50 percent at this point.”

Since the unemployment statistics are delayed by several weeks, Winters said they likely won’t reflect the impact of the stay-at-home order and business restrictions being lifted until early July.

After peaking in early April, the number of initial unemployment applications in Wisconsin has since leveled off, according to the DWD website. But the daily totals are still in the thousands, and much higher than the same time last year. Between March 15 and May 16, DWD received 549,147 initial unemployment applications.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce President & CEO Kurt Bauer said a prolonged shutdown due to COVID-19 “would likely be a much greater threat to the state than the virus itself.”

“Now is the time to return to the policies that delivered the strongest economy, lowest unemployment and largest budget reserves in Wisconsin history,” he said. “Wisconsin must reduce taxes, cut job-strangling red tape, and enact liability reforms that protect employers from costly and frivolous lawsuits.”

See the release:

See the latest unemployment application numbers:

See the WMC statement:

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