Jobless claims swamp Pennsylvania amid rise in virus cases

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania rose by 50% while record numbers of state residents filed for unemployment compensation, the most in the nation, according to figures released Thursday.

Pennsylvanians have filed about 650,000 unemployment compensation claims over the past 11 days as Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled an order for thousands of “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shut down to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.ADVERTISEMENT

In the seven days through Saturday, Pennsylvanians filed about 379,000 claims, smashing the record for an entire week in the state. That was also the most in the nation by far, doubling the nearest state as business groups complain that Wolf’s shutdown order was more restrictive than those in other states.

In the four days since then, Pennsylvanians have filed another 271,000, putting the state on course to break last week’s record.

Thursday claims were still coming in and Wolf acknowledged that Pennsylvania is “really the epicenter” of the national jobless crisis caused by the virus.

Wolf’s administration contends that Pennsylvania was “one of the first and largest states to take action to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19 with aggressive mitigation efforts,” spurring an increase in unemployment compensation filings.

Wolf’s Department of Labor and Industry “actively urges people to file online” instead of calling, which results in more applications being filed quicker, the agency said.

Plus, workers in other large states hit hard by the coronavirus might not need to file as quickly since they have access to some combination of mandatory paid sick leave, short-term disability or paid family and medical leave, Wolf’s administration said.

On Thursday night, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Philadelphia school board voted to authorize $11 million to buy up to 50,000 computers for students in the city. The district had not been requiring students to do distance learning at home since so many of them have no computers or internet access. Home instruction could begin in mid-April. Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, his wife Aileen and their children told the Inquirer they are donating $5 million to offset the cost.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania.

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JOBLESS CLAIMS

The single highest day for unemployment compensation claims was Friday, when more than 90,000 people filed claims.

That was the day after Wolf unveiled an order for “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shut down. Even before that order, unemployment compensation filings in Pennsylvania had skyrocketed, underscoring how many businesses had already closed or shed workers.

A review of weekly data going back to 1987 shows a high of 61,000 in early 2010, when the effects of the Great Recession were taking hold.

In February, when Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was 4.7%, a household survey estimated that nearly 6.25 million people were working or looking for work, while 309,000 were unemployed.

In perhaps the biggest single layoff, the Greater Philadelphia YMCA told the state it was letting go of 3,400 employees effective last Friday. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, president and CEO Shaun Elliot said he fully intends to reopen the non-profit’s branches once it is allowed by the state.

Elliott said the organization’s revenue had dropped “precipitously” when gyms and daycare centers were required to close. Employees will be paid through April 5 and compensated for unused vacation days, he said.

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