Big employers in the Philadelphia region have announced more than 15 times as many layoffs so far this month than in all of March last year, a microcosm of the massive job losses that the coronavirus pandemic has visited upon the state and the nation.
At least 4,114 layoffs have been announced by major employers since March 1 in Philadelphia and its surrounding Southeastern Pennsylvania counties, according to notices published by the state Department of Labor and Industry.
In March 2019, there were 270 layoffs announced by such businesses with more than 100 full-time workers, which are required to disclose plans to let workers go under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN.
Those numbers likely offer just a glimpse of the total number of job losses in the region, because they capture staffing cuts by only the larger companies that have to file reports, said Jonathan Krause, a lawyer at Philadelphia law firm Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg who specializes in labor and employment law.
“A lot of people have been hurt by this,” said Gene Barr, president and chief executive of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. "It has been massive.”
The regional layoffs track an unprecedented rise in new unemployment claims nationally, which surged to 3.3 million claims for last week, the highest number since data have been collected. The number far surpassed a 1982 record of 695,000 claims in a single week set during a recession.
In Pennsylvania alone, there were about 645,000 new claims for unemployment compensation in the days after Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown to slow the coronavirus.
New Jersey’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, meanwhile, received 155,815 new claims for unemployment insurance for the week ending March 21, a 1,546% increase over the prior week.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment claims were the highest in the nation, with New Jersey coming in fourth, according to a tally by NJ.com. Other figures, though, show that claims were surging in New York, California and other states.
Layoffs are happening across the country, but they are "heavily concentrated” in states where governors have issued shutdown orders, said Joel Naroff, president of the advisory firm Naroff Economics in Holland, Pa.
In Pennsylvania, he said, “we hit an initial surge because, essentially, the governor didn’t mess around.”
In the region’s largest mass layoff of the coronavirus crisis, the Greater Philadelphia YMCA cut 4,000 jobs, accounting for most of its workforce.
Just 61 employees remain across the 16 branches and 12 early-learning centers in the region, and all have taken pay cuts, said president and chief executive Shaun Elliott. His pay was cut entirely, and pay for his direct reports was cut in half.
Of the 4,000 laid-off employees, about 3,400 were in Pennsylvania, according to the group’s WARN notice. Elliot said the others had been based in South Jersey. About 700 were full-time, he said.
Since 90% of the nonprofit’s income comes from membership and child-care fees, revenue dropped “precipitously” when gyms and day-care centers were required to close to slow the spread of the virus, Elliott said.
“We had to make this really tough choice,” he said, “so that we could survive as an organization to reopen when it’s possible.”
Another big source of job losses was the closure of the private membership Fitler Club in the Aramark headquarters building at 2400 Market St., which laid off 238 workers. The club combines dining, overnight accommodations, and co-working space — all of them hard-hit sectors — under one roof.
As an industry, food-and-beverage businesses lost the greatest number of workers, after the nonprofit YMCA’s losses. Eating and drinking establishments in the region let go of 372 workers in March, when they were forced to shutter their dining rooms.
The Cameron Mitchell Restaurants group said it was laying off 90 workers at its Ocean Prime steakhouse at 15th and Sansom Streets, while Middle Eastern quick-service chain Naya at 16th and Market Streets reported 11 layoffs.
An unspecified number comprising “all restaurant staff” were also being let go at Aqimero in the Ritz-Carlton hotel just south of City Hall.
“It’s total annihilation,” said Casey Parker, co-owner of three Philadelphia restaurants, including Jose Pistolas in Center City. Parker let go of 39 of his 44 employees, but did not have to report those layoffs to the state. “I lost 90% of my business overnight.”
Also hard hit were businesses at Philadelphia International Airport, with the pandemic slowing air travel to a crawl.
OTG Management, one of two companies on the WARN list operating restaurants at the airport, reported that 260 workers have been impacted by closures. The company runs 13 restaurants at the airport, including Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar, as well as Independence Prime in Terminal B.
The other company that filed notice, Hojeij Branded Foods, is owned by Paradies Lagardère, which operates a Chick-fil-A and the wine bar Vino Volo. The notice didn’t specify how many workers are affected by its closure.
The airport had previously announced that its 170-plus restaurants and shops would “right-size” as a result of the coronavirus, “to accommodate adjusted passenger volume levels.”
Philadelphia hoteliers, meanwhile, reported 91 layoffs with the state. The largest number was let go at the Warwick Rittenhouse Square Hotel, which laid off 53.
The Hilton Garden Inn at 1100 Arch St., the Logan Philadelphia on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and the Westin Philadelphia in Center City’s Liberty Place high-rise complex have all stopped taking reservations for the coming weeks.
“Some hotels have suspended operations, others are staying open with a skeleton staff,” said Ed Grose, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association. “But pretty much every hotel has laid off a lot of people.”
Grose’s group has been raising money for grocery-store gift cards for laid-off hotel employees from supporters including the Visit Philadelphia tourism-promotion agency and the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Since Monday, $445,000 has been raised, but the hotel group doesn’t yet have a count of how many jobless workers the money will have to be divided among.
“It’s pretty sad what’s happening out there,” Grose said.
-Staff writer Sam Wood contributed to this article