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Lancaster County’s unemployment rate soars to 15.3% in April, worst since Great Depression | Local Business



The unemployment rate in Lancaster County soared to 15.3% in April, the state announced Tuesday, the worst since the Great Depression.

With Gov. Tom Wolf closing all but life-sustaining businesses to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, a shocking 42,500 county residents had lost their jobs by the time the state gathered its data in the second week of April.

That’s more than the population of Manheim Township.

(Another 10,000 or so have lost their jobs since, according to the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board, but these more recent layoffs won’t appear in the state’s monthly report until it issues its May rate at the end of this month.)

Elevating the unemployment rate were heavy job losses in the hotel, restaurant, construction, retail and manufacturing sectors, the state report shows.

“The massive unemployment rate increase is obviously bad news for Lancaster’s businesses and workers,” said Adam Ozimek, the Lancaster-based chief economist for tech firm Upwork.

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“It’s important to understand though that many of these jobs are not gone forever, and will return. The risk is that too many businesses fail in the interim, and what are now temporary job losses become permanent,” he said in an email.

Naomi Young, director of the Center for Regional Analysis, part of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County, pointed out that Wolf’s order closing businesses wasn’t his only order that caused industries to falter.

“The April unemployment situation reflects severe implications of the state’s efforts to manage the pandemic,” Young said.

“It captures the combination of restricting business operations and the stay-at-home orders. The two orders effectively placed supply and demand side constraints on the economy,” she said in an email.

The result of the collapse of those five large economic sectors (and others) was an April jobless rate that’s dramatically higher than anything the county has experienced in almost 90 years.

For instance, it more than triples the March rate of 4.4%, the result of the county having a comparatively moderate number of residents — 12,800 —  without work in the second week of that month. But that was just the calm before the storm; Wolf’s sweeping shutdown began the following week.

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The April rate also nearly doubles the previous record high seen here since the state began calculating monthly data for Pennsylvania’s metropolitan areas in 1976. That mark – 9.2% — was notched in January 1983, as the economy was coming out of a recession.

More recently, the unemployment rate hit a cyclical peak of 8.4% in January 2010, as the economy was coming out of the Great Recession.

The last time unemployment was worse came during 1933 – during the Great Depression – when the national rate peaked at 24.9%.

While the April unemployment rate in Lancaster County is historic, it also is comparable to the statewide and national rates, which were 15.1% and 14.7% respectively, which it usually is.

But the local rate’s typically stellar standing among the state’s 17 other metropolitan areas is no more.

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Lancaster County had a top-three ranking for decades, but in April, seven metros fared better — Bloomsburg (15.0%), Chambersburg (13.3%), Gettysburg (15.2%), Harrisburg (13.8%), Lebanon (14.2%), Philadelphia (15.0%) and State College (10.4). York tied Lancaster County.

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