Penn Cinema Re-Opens

A Penn Cinema moviegoer buys popcorn at the concession stand with newly installed plexiglass barriers, as movie theaters across Lancaster County reopened Friday, June 26, 2020.

Pushed by Gov. Tom Wolf, COVID-19 and the business cycle, the number of newly laid off Lancaster Countians jumped 13.6% last week, new data shows.

The 683 new claims for unemployment benefits filed last week were the highest here since mid-July, the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board reported Thursday.

Including the latest figure, new claims have grown by double-digit percentages during four of the past six weeks.

The county’s double-digit surge in new claims was echoed by the national figure. The number of new claims nationwide soared 23.1% to 965,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Across Pennsylvania, new claims grew much less, rising 5.8% to 40,800.

Although Wolf’s temporary three-week shutdown of certain businesses ended at the beginning of last week, on Jan. 4, those businesses were battered by the loss of revenue and rattled by the prospect of the shutdown returning, said local economist Naomi Young.

Businesses of all stripes also were wary of the high number of COVID-19 cases, she indicated.

Wolf’s order, implemented to stem the rapid spread of COVID-19, shut down cinemas, gyms, live-event venues and restaurant dining rooms.

About 60 of last week’s new claimants came from the restaurant industry, according to data provided by the board. But January is the slowest time of year for the restaurant business, so it’s possible that the seasonal slump played a role in the layoffs too.

The business cycle also help might explain why scores of other newly idled workers came from the construction and landscaping industries – industries that were excluded from Wolf’s order but industries that typically hit the brakes in January.

Other sectors that were hard hit, judging from the new claims (formally known as initial claims) filed last week, include manufacturing and distribution.

“The latest (unemployment compensation) claims reflect the effects of high COVID-19 cases and the governor’s time-limited mitigation order,” said Young, director of the Center for Regional Analysis of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County.

“A key signal for (the health of the county’s labor market) will be if the initial claims fall quickly through January. It will hopefully signal that businesses are able to rebound despite the December pause,” she said.

Continued claims filed by Lancaster Countians for unemployment benefits, which are filed by people who already get unemployment compensation, grew considerably too. They rose 12.2% to 11,604 in the week ended Jan. 2, the most recent period for which data is available.

That was the worst in two months, according to figures from the board.

While the latest figures for new and continued claims indicate short-term setbacks in the labor market here, a longer perspective provides a different view.

Even with the recent runups, both numbers remain far better than they were in the spring, when the pandemic was at its worst.

For instance, weekly new claims in early April soared to 15,700; they had been about 200 immediately before the pandemic. Weekly continued claims in early May exceeded 50,000; they had been about 4,000 immediately before the pandemic.

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