1 million and counting? Pennsylvanians flood state with unemployment claims

    The Department of Labor and Industry's unemployment webpage.

    More than 1 million Pennsylvanians have applied for unemployment benefits since the state’s COVID-19 mediation efforts kicked off in mid-March, according to state data.

    As of Friday, 1,017,101 workers — about 15 percent of Pennsylvania’s labor force — are now seeking the state’s jobless benefits, according to an unofficial running count on the state Department of Labor and Industry’s website.

    Gov. Tom Wolf closed all schools for two weeks starting March 13, ordered restaurants to shutter in impacted counties on March 16, and then asked for all but the most essential businesses, such as grocery stores, to follow suit statewide on March 19.

    The new high comes as national unemployment claims also spike. The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday that 6.6 million people applied for jobless benefits from March 14 through March 28 alone.

    Pennsylvania still makes up an outsized percentage of the total. To explain the commonwealth’s high numbers, officials and experts have pointed to everything from the lack of guaranteed paid leave to pay stubs showing unemployment payments to the state’s online application system.

    “Pennsylvania was one of the first and largest states to take action to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19 with aggressive mitigation efforts, therefore an increase in unemployment compensation applications would be expected,” Jahmai Sharp, a L&I spokesperson, said in an email.

    There could still be further to fall. A University of Pittsburgh economist recently estimated that the jobs of 2.2 million Pennsylvanians workers will be impacted by Wolf’s “life-sustaining” business order, issued March 19.

    Layoffs have impacted numerous sectors, from bars and restaurants to construction and media.

    Some assistance is on the way. Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed, a $2 trillion stimulus package that includes expanded jobless benefits. Such benefits will also cover gig workers and the self-employed.

    The state Labor Department continues to encourage people to apply for benefits online, and as soon as they are laid off. Eligibility can only be determined after one submits an application, not before.

    Wolf has extended his school and business closure orders indefinitely. A stay-in-place order is in-effect statewide until April 30.