PA Coronavirus Shutdown Wreaks Havoc on Economy as New Unemployment Claims Top 645,000

Rebecca Moss of Spotlight PA

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News.

HARRISBURG — About 645,000 Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment compensation in the 10 days since Gov. Tom Wolf first ordered a statewide shutdown to slow the coronavirus, according to new numbers released Thursday, the clearest picture to-date of the damage to the economy.

The Sunday prior to Wolf’s order to close all “non-essential businesses,” the state recorded roughly 4,000 new jobless claims. The following day, when Wolf made the announcement, the state received more than 51,000 new claims, according to data from the Department of Labor and Industry.

The state is averaging a whopping 64,574 new claims per day.

“For a good while they were experiencing the lowest unemployment in history,” said Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R., Washington), the majority chair of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee. “And now, within a week, they are experiencing the highest number in history, so it is quite a swing.”

The Department of Labor and Industry attributes the job loss to layoffs in the hotel, food services, transportation, warehousing, and educational service industries.

Nationally, the federal government reported 3.3 million new unemployment claims for last week, the highest number since data has been collected. The number far surpassed a 1982 record of 695,000 claims in a single week.

The state had declined to report official claims numbers until the federal report was released Thursday, following a Trump administration mandate to embargo the information out of concern the tidal wave of unemployment could influence financial markets.

The state Department of Labor and Industry said Thursday it had reversed course and will post daily updates starting Friday.

“We have never seen anything like this,” said Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the AFL-CIO, which represents roughly 700,000 people. He said the impact on workers from the coronavirus dwarfs the fallout experienced amid the steel shutdowns in the 1980s and in the Great Recession.

As the numbers began rolling in over the last week, he said, “It was just overwhelming. People were just shocked.”

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