The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania was up by 50% to more than 1,600 cases as record numbers of Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment compensation, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration said Thursday.
The state Department of Health said five more people have died in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll up to at least 17 Thursday.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvanians filed about 650,000 unemployment compensation claims over the past 11 days as the coronavirus has spread and thousands of businesses closed or laid off employees.
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Wolf said that by the end of Friday, the state was expecting the number of unemployment claims to rise to 800,000, eclipsing the number of claims in the rest of the nation.
“Pennsylvania is really the epicenter of the unemployment insurance claims," he said.
Villanova Economics Professor David Fiorenza said the uptick makes sense. "We are a very big tourism and hospitality state. We are one of the top states in the country. Restaurants and casinos closed, that's a lot of jobs right there," Fiorenza explained.
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According to Investopedia, Pennsylvania's tourism industry provides jobs for 490,000 people.
And those looking for new jobs may encounter another bump in the road.
"Some people have limited skill sets. They also may not be able to telecommute or shift into other industries. They may also have difficulty commuting, since their income levels may not support having a car," Fiorenza said.
The single highest day for unemployment compensation claims, going back to March 15, was Friday, when more than 90,000 people filed claims.
That was the day after Wolf unveiled an order for “non-life-sustaining” businesses to shut down in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus.
Even before that order, unemployment compensation filings in Pennsylvania and many other states had skyrocketed, underscoring how many businesses had already closed or shed workers.
In the seven days through Saturday, Pennsylvanians filed about 379,000 claims, smashing the record for an entire week in the state.
In the four days since then, Pennsylvanians have filed another 271,000, putting the state on course to break last week's record.
A review of weekly data going back to 1987 shows a high of 61,000 in early 2010, when the effects of the Great Recession were taking hold.
In February, when Pennsylvania's unemployment rate was 4.7%, a household survey estimated that nearly 6.25 million people were working or looking for work, while 309,000 were unemployed.
In perhaps the biggest single layoff, the Greater Philadelphia YMCA told the state it was letting go of 3,400 employees effective last Friday. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, president and CEO Shaun Elliot saidhe fully intends to reopen the non-profit's branches once it is allowed by the state.
Elliott said the organization's revenue had dropped “precipitously” when gyms and daycare centers were required to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Employees will be paid through April 5 and will be compensated for accrued and unused vacation days, he said.
Unfortunately, things may also get worse for some of the thousands of people who applied for unemployment insurance.
"Just because people filed [unemployment] claims, it doesn't mean they're all eligible," said Fiorenza.