HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) — Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate skyrocketed in April at the height of the state’s pandemic-driven shutdown to its highest rate in over four decades of record-keeping, the state Department of Labor and Industry said Friday.
Meanwhile, payrolls fell by more than 1 million to the lowest level in at least three decades.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate more than doubled to 15.1% in April, up from 5.8% in March, the department said.
About 2.2 million Pennsylvanians have sought unemployment benefits since mid-March, or one-third of the labor force.
Over the past two and half months KDKA has shared their stories: restaurant workers, store clerks and others suddenly furloughed due to the pandemic. The unemployment numbers show just how devastating this crisis has become.
It’s the worst wave of unemployment in our region since the steel mills shut down in the late 1970s and earlier 80s — in fact, Pitt researcher Chris Briem says the numbers are far worse.
“The steel mill jobs went away forever. So hopefully, these jobs are coming back, but in terms of how fast the jobs loss came away, it’s certainly much worse,” says Briem. “We’re talking three times the job loss in 1983.”
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Those hardest hit have been leisure and hospitality as restaurants, hotels and the travel industries have ground to an abrupt halt, sidelining thousands of workers who face an uncertain future even if restrictions are lifted.
“I don’t think the state lifting any shutdown mandate is going to bring back the hotel jobs, the airport jobs very quickly. The restaurant jobs are still going to be depressed for a long time,” said Briem.
“Landlords, utilities work with us — other than that, we’d all be out with no place to live, no place to make money, no way to feed our families,” said independent jewelry maker Dereck Thomas.
Thomas has no market for his work right now but is hopeful this will pass and we come through this with a renewed sense of community and support for our now shuttered local businesses.
“People take it for granted before but once we’re back out there with our friends and family and neighbors, it will be nice,” said Thomas.
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