The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development received nearly 70,000 initial unemployment claims last week, according to preliminary data released by the department. The data covers the period starting on Sunday, March 15 and goes through Saturday, March 21. The number of applications peaked Friday at 17,094. Nearly 15,000 applications were filed Wednesday and more than 16,000 were filed Thursday. The counts are preliminary and not official. Each claim will be processed and verified before the department submits its counts to the U.S. Department of Labor. Official counts will be released Thursday. Another 10,872 claims were filed on Sunday, March 22. The social distancing measures and bans on large gatherings put in place by Gov. Tony Evers to combat the spread of coronavirus has created challenges for a number of industries. Many restaurants, including Punch Bowl Social and The Bartolotta Restaurants have had to close for the foreseeable future. Some retailers, including Kohl's Corp., have shut down stores and some manufacturers, including Harley-Davidson, have suspended production. The 69,342 initial claims filed last week marks a sharp uptick in unemployment in Wisconsin. For weeks ending in 2020, the state averaged 6,250 initial claims per week for a total of 56,252. According to non-seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the highest one-week total for Wisconsin was 49,267 at the end of 2001. Even during the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath, only one two-week period at the end of 2009 saw more than 70,000 initial claims. Most two-week stretches during that downturn saw fewer than 60,000 initial claims. Evers last week issued an emergency order waiving work search requirements and modifying availability requirements for unemployment insurance benefits. Evers is also asking lawmakers to waive a one-week waiting period for benefits. The order includes a provision that says an employee won’t be disqualified from receiving benefits if the employer perceives them as exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or the employee is quarantined by a medical professional.
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