Pennsylvania jobless rate hits 15.1% as payrolls collapse

The state's highest unemployment rate was 12.7% in 1983.

  • Marc Levy/The Associated Press

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(Harrisburg) — Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate skyrocketed in April, at the height of the pandemic-driven shutdown, to its highest rate in over four decades of record-keeping, the state said Friday.

Meanwhile, payrolls fell by more than 1 million to the lowest level in at least three decades, according to the Department of Labor and Industry.

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate more than doubled to 15.1% in April, up from 5.8% in March, the department said. It had initially said Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was 6% in March, but that preliminary figure was adjusted to 5.8%.

The national rate was 14.7% in April.

Pennsylvania’s highest unemployment rate was 12.7% in 1983, according to federal data that goes back to 1976 under the same methodology. It is a dramatic change from last year, when Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate hit a nearly two-decade low of 4.1%.

A separate survey of employers showed seasonally adjusted nonfarm payrolls fell by more than 1 million in April to just above 5 million. That’s the lowest recorded payroll figure for Pennsylvania, according to federal data that goes back to the start of 1990 under the same methodology.

Tim Lambert / WITF

Closed signs are on the front door of Isaac’s Restaurant in Hummelstown on April 5.

Meanwhile, 2.2 million Pennsylvanians have sought unemployment benefits since mid-March, including the self-employed, gig workers, freelancers and others who do not typically qualify. That’s about one-third of April’s labor force in Pennsylvania.

Hardest hit was the leisure and hospitality sector, losing more than 320,000 jobs, or nearly 60%, as restaurants and bars were forced to shut down in-house service and shift food service to takeout or delivery.

The trade, transportation and utilities sector lost almost 190,000 jobs, or about one out of six, while education and health services lost nearly 150,000, or more than 10%, and construction lost 100,000 jobs, or almost 40%.

With the number of new infections slowing, Gov. Tom Wolf this month has been easing social distancing restrictions and allowing many businesses to reopen in lesser-impacted areas of the state.

On May 1, for instance, he allowed all construction activity to restart.

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