The number of Lancaster County workers pushed into unemployment by the COVID-19 outbreak fell 27.5% last week, new figures released Thursday show.
The 833 initial claims for unemployment benefits filed by county residents last week were the fewest since the pandemic began 14 weeks ago, according to the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board’s statistics.
Still, while the new data indicate that the pandemic’s economic punch is weakening, it’s still exceptionally powerful -- the volume of initial claims last week was about four times larger than the typical volume before the virus arrived.
The weekly figure began to surge in mid-March when Gov. Tom Wolf closed businesses that aren’t life sustaining to contain the novel coronavirus, and demand for goods and services plunged as residents obeyed Wolf’s order to stay home.
The weekly number of new claims peaked at 15,716 in early April, elevating the county’s unemployment rate for April to 15.3%, the worst since the Great Depression.
The hardest hit sectors include hotels and restaurants, manufacturing, retail and construction, according to the board and the Center for Regional Analysis of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County.
Including this last week’s wave of newly jobless countians, more than 58,000 have lost their jobs and sought unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
However, as Wolf has progressively loosened restrictions on business operations in the county, the number of county residents remaining on unemployment has slowly ebbed.
For the week ended June 13, some 35,600 county residents had continuing claims for unemployment benefits, down from 39,200 at the end of May and 50,900 at the start of May, according to the board.
(Continuing claim statistics are released a week later than initial claim numbers, so the figure for last week is not yet available.)
Again, while the downward trend is encouraging, that number of continuing claims stands far above the pre-pandemic norm. Before the pandemic, the county had 10,600 people unemployed.
Lancaster County’s decline in initial claims contrasted with the direction of initial-claim filings across the state. In Pennsylvania, the number of initial claims filed last week was up 27.7% to 56,000, but still a fraction of the late March peak of 406,000.
But nationally, the number of initial claims filed last week dipped 3.9% to 1.48 million.