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The pandemic continued to relax its hold on the Lancaster County workforce somewhat last week, but the number of already idled workers here stayed at a recessionary level, new data shows.

The number of county residents who filed new claims for unemployment benefits fell 16.1%, while the number of already jobless countians who filed continued claims for benefits dipped 13.5%, the county Workforce Development Board said Thursday.

Both indicators are the lowest since the COVID-19 outbreak hit in mid-March, yet well above their levels prior to the pandemic’s arrival.

“It is encouraging to see unemployment numbers moving in the right direction for Lancaster County. Initial claims have remained low,” said Naomi Young, director of the Center for Regional Analysis, part of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County.

“These levels of initial claims reinforce what we are hearing from employers and seeing in the data – that many employers are looking to not only retain their workers, but also fill new job openings,” she said.

At the same time, despite the progress, the number of continued claims shows the county still is mired in a recession, according to Young.

Taking a closer look at the latest figures, new claims for unemployment benefits filed by county residents dropped to 297 last week from 354 the prior week.

The new figure extended a gradual descent from the pandemic peak of 15,700 new claims, the week ended April 4.

While the new number showed dramatic progress from that peak, the volume of new claims (formally called initial claims) stayed roughly 50% higher than the pre-pandemic norm.

Nationally, the number of new claims rose a tiny bit, increasing 0.5% to 870,000. In Pennsylvania, the number of new claims statewide also changed a minuscule amount, dropping 0.8% to 21,900.

In Lancaster County, continued claims followed a similar pattern as new claims did. They waned to 17,900 in the week ended Sept. 12 (the most recent figure available) from 20,700 the previous week.

Again, although that decrease represented improvement, the volume still stood more than four times higher than the level here in January and February.

In particular, the restaurant, hotel, retail and live event industries kept struggling, as COVID-19 precautions and the recession stifled or eliminated demand for those services.

These higher-than-normal claim volumes have lifted the county unemployment rate to double figures for four straight months, and most recently 11.1% in July.

That elevated rate is the worst since the Great Depression in the 1930s. At that time, the rate was about 25%. Before the pandemic, the Lancaster County unemployment rate hovered in the 3% range, one of the lowest in Pennsylvania.

The state will announce Lancaster County’s unemployment rate for August on Tuesday.

The Center for Regional Analysis has predicted that the August rate will be about 9%, better than April through July, but far exceeding the pre-pandemic level.

For context, until this pandemic hit, the local jobless rate hadn’t been 9% since 1983, when the nation also was in the throes of a recession.