Pennsylvania leads the nation in a record week of new unemployment claims | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pennsylvania leads the nation in a record week of new unemployment claims

The U.S. Labor Department reports today that 3.28 million new unemployment claims were filed for the week ending March 21. The previous record in a week was below 700,000.

Of those nearly 3.3 million unemployment claims, Pennsylvania reported an estimated 379,000 claims over the last week, the most of any state, according to Bloomberg. Ohio had the second largest share with about 188,000 claims. Compared to this week last year, Pennsylvania only had 13,000 unemployment claims.

This spike can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, and the business closures that have been instituted to help stem the spread of the virus. As of yesterday, Pennsylvania had 1,127 positive coronavirus cases, and 11 deaths caused by COVID-19.

Pennsylvania represents about 11.5% of all American unemployment claims last week, even though the state only represents about 4% of the U.S. population. It’s initially unclear exactly why Pennsylvania represents such a large percentage of the nation’s unemployment claims, but it could be a combination of the makeup of the commonwealth’s workforce, the expediency at which state and regional leaders shut down businesses as precautions, and the ease of our unemployment claim process.
In terms of Pittsburgh’s effect on the state’s high number of unemployment claims, the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR) reports that more than 515,000 workers in the Pittsburgh region “are estimated to be directly impacted by the closure of non-life-sustaining business locations at this time.” That’s about 46% of the 1.13 million workers in the seven-county Pittsburgh region.

Of that 1.13 million person workforce, UCSUR estimates that only about 46% will be allowed to remain open under the mandatory closures. The size of some local workforces that will be adversely affected by the closures (99,000 restaurant workers, 90,000 educational services workers, 117,000 retail trade, and 78,000 professional services workers), could provide one explanation to why Pennsylvania’s unemployment claims are so high.

Some on social media have also noted that Pennsylvania's unemployment filing system is better than other state systems.

Julia Simon-Mishel of Philadelphia Legal Assistance says the number of unemployment claims in unprecedented. She says people at her organization are utilizing the state's online unemployment filing system, which she says is very effective. She says phone filing system often get backed up in times like these.

"The unemployment system is structured to help folks in situations when they are suddenly out of work, and it is good that people have immediately started filing for benefits," says Simon-Mishel.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a stimulus bill that would provide trillions of dollars to combat the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. Of that, about $150 billion is directed to state governments, and the Pennsylvania state government will receive about $5 billion, according to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh).

That’s only 3.3% of the money designated for state aid, when Pennsylvania represented 11.5% of the country’s unemployment claims from last week. Moving forward, other state’s might catch Pennsylvania with unemployment claims, and reduce the state’s overall percentage of U.S. claims.
But Pennsylvania might also file even more claims moving forward. About 278,000 claims were filed in the four days before the start of last week. In the last 11 days, which included the 379,000 claims filed in the last seven days, about 650,000 Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment. That figure represents about 10% of the state’s workforce.