Pa. business and labor leaders react to highest unemployment on record


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — At the height of the pandemic last month, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate nearly tripled to more than 15%.

It’s the highest rate in 44 years of record-keeping.

“We are very concerned how this is affecting the economy right now and how these numbers will affect the economy long-range,” said Pennsylvania Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak.

15.1% of Pennsylvanians were unemployed in April. Nationwide, 14.7% were unemployed.

“They’re numbers but there are actually people and families behind it which is obviously the most disturbing thing,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

Bar said the numbers could actually be worse.

“We’ve heard anecdotally about people who have not been able to get through to L&I,” Barr said. “That’s not an indictment of the people at L&I. They’re simply overwhelmed.”

The question is, with more counties going yellow, and construction, real estate, and some recreation back in business, will the numbers go down?

“I think if we continue to phase in openings throughout the state that we will see them go down but I’m not ready to predict anything right now,” Oleksiak said.

“40% losses in construction, 60% in the travel, tourism, restaurant, hospitality industry. We’re hoping that they will,” Barr said.

To help businesses start up again, the chamber created the “Bringing PA Back” initiative to give guidance on how to operate safely.

The governor also started a “path forward” work group.

“We are looking at what are we learning from this, what can we do to help workers and businesses adjust to the new world of work?” Oleksiak said.

Specific county and regional unemployment information will be available June 2.

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