Sewing masks

Sewing masks is one of the volunteer opportunities available this spring, helping such organizations as Lancaster Mask Sewists. The Amish community made these masks to donate to Lancaster Health Center in March 2020.

New local claims for unemployment benefits stayed elevated in late December due to Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown of restaurants, movie theaters and gyms to contain the pandemic, new data shows.

The three-week closing, which ended Monday, fueled a noticeable upturn in new claims as soon as it took effect in mid-December, pushing the weekly volume above 600.

New claims stayed in that territory in the week ended Saturday, dipping just 2.6% to 601, according to figures provided Thursday by the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board.

New claims, formally known as initial claims, are an indicator of fresh unemployment. A year ago, before the pandemic, Lancaster Countians typically filed about 200 a week.

But when COVID-19 hit in mid-March, that prompted Wolf to close all but essential businesses and to order residents to stay at home. Employers immediately idled thousands of workers, pushing new claims to a peak of 15,700 in the first week of April.

Since then, new claims for unemployment compensation have subsided, receding as low as the mid and high 200s for eight weeks this fall. It didn’t last, though. A new surge of COVID-19 cases led to new layoffs; Wolf’s three-week shutdown prompted more.

Economist Naomi Young, director of the Center for Regional Analysis of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, voiced optimism Thursday that claim volumes will drop farther.

“We expect that the unemployment compensation figures will improve through January with the time-limited (shutdown) orders being lifted and more people (getting) vaccinated,” she said.

Nationally, new claims slid a miniscule 0.4% to 787,000, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday. Statewide, new claims decreased 11.1% to 34,000.

Continued claims for unemployment benefits filed by countians who are already receiving them rose 2.8% to 10,300 in the week ended Dec. 26, the most recent week for which figures are available, said the board.

As with new claims, continued claims are higher than their fall lows, when they ebbed into the 8,000s and 9,000s. Still, continued claims are way below their spring peak of 50,000-plus.

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