Pa. unemployment claims set record after coronavirus shutdown

Rebecca Moss of Spotlight PA
A "Temporarily Closed" sign is posted in Springettsbury Township, Saturday, March 21, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

HARRISBURG — More than half a million Pennsylvanians have filed new unemployment claims during the past week, a record number indicative of the sweeping economic fallout from Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown in order to slow the coronavirus.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Labor and Industry had received a total of 540,000 new unemployment claims since March 16, when Wolf first announced the closure of all nonessential businesses, according to a state senator briefed by the labor secretary.

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Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the highest number of first-time claims ever filed in Pennsylvania was 168,200, but that was for the entire month of January 2010, said Sen. Christine Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, the minority chair of the state Senate committee on labor and industry.

The state has far surpassed that number in about seven days.

“You are going to have more and more people laid off,” Tartaglione said. “There are going to be a lot more.”

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A spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Industry declined to comment, saying the official numbers have been embargoed by the U.S. Department of Labor until Thursday, and the state is complying. The governor’s office referred comment to the labor department.

The department also has not commented on the number of staff on hand to process the surge, but Tartaglione said the agency is recruiting retired staff to come back on board temporarily. Individuals from other departments within the agency are also helping to process claims, she said.

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