More than 82,000 unemployment claims were filed in Wisconsin from Sunday through Wednesday, bringing the total to more than 250,000 claims since March 18, according to preliminary data from the state Department of Workforce Development.
Monday's 24,664 claims marked the largest number of claims filed in a single day so far since social distancing measures were put in place by the state to limit the spread of the new coronavirus. That was 20 times the number of claims filed on the same day last year.
"This is just unprecedented," said Emily Savard, program and policy analyst with DWD's Unemployment Insurance Division. "If you compare it even to the highest filing time of the Great Recession, we are getting more than double that number of claims at this point."
The jump in Wisconsin claims was part of a nationwide surge that saw more than 6.6 million Americans apply for unemployment benefits last week, doubling a record high set the previous week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.
As a result of the extraordinary level of claims resulting from the restrictions on mass gatherings and mandatory closings of nonessential businesses in Wisconsin, the DWD unemployment call center is experiencing record call volume and urging people to apply for jobless benefits online. The agency's Unemployment Insurance Division last week received more than 1.5 million calls, an increase of 6,208% over its previous busiest weekly call volume, DWD said in a news release.
"We're dealing with such a mountain of calls that all we can do is chip away at it," Savard said. "We're doing the best we can with the people we have."
DWD, which is temporarily unable to break down the claims data by county, is working to add staff and call capacity to help deal with what Savard called a "different landscape than we've seen in the past."
In the meantime, the agency is pleading for patience and asking people to seek as many answers as possible on the DWD website at dwd.wisconsin.gov. More than 98% of people who have applied for unemployment benefits online have been able to successfully file their claim, Savard said.
"I feel for people who are waiting. I understand people are scared and anxious and frustrated and that's why we're doing our best to have FAQs (frequently asked questions) on the website so they have a place to get immediate answers," she said.