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Pa. unemployment claims skyrocket to 540,000 since statewide coronavirus shutdown, shattering records

"There are going to be a lot more," says the ranking Democrat on the Senate labor and industry committee.

Unemployment claims in Pennsylvania surged in wake of the coronavirus, to 120,000 as of March 19.
Unemployment claims in Pennsylvania surged in wake of the coronavirus, to 120,000 as of March 19.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

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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 non-essential businesses, according to a state senator briefed by the labor secretary.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the highest number of first-time claims filed in a week in Pennsylvania since at least 1987 was 61,181 in early January 2010, according to federal labor statistics. The monthly total that year also set the previous record, topping out at 168,159, the numbers show.

“You are going to have more and more people laid-off,” said Sen. Christine Tartaglione (D., Philadelphia), the minority chair of the senate committee on labor and industry. “There are going to be a lot more.”

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 the other departments within the agency are also helping to process claims, she said.

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