July jobless rate, payrolls rise as Pennsylvania seeks relief

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rose in July to remain well above the national rate, even as payrolls rebounded for another month from pandemic-driven shutdowns, the state reported Friday.

Meanwhile, Gov. Tom Wolf’s office also reported that the state was applying Friday to the federal government for a new round of $300 in weekly unemployment benefits under a presidential order tapping into disaster relief aid. Wolf’s labor secretary said earlier this week that it would.

Still, Wolf, a Democrat, urged Republicans in Congress to instead extend the $600-a-week unemployment supplement that expired last month.


“As I have said before and will continue to say, the extra $600 per week was the lifeline Pennsylvania families needed to get by,” Wolf said in a statement. “They deserve better.”

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate was 13.7% in July, up a half-percentage point from June’s adjusted rate, the state Department of Labor and Industry said.

It had initially estimated June’s rate at 13%. The state’s rate pandemic-driven unemployment high exceeded 16% in April, the highest rate in more than four decades of record-keeping.

The national rate was 10.2% in July.

In a survey of households, the labor force grew by 88,000 to rise back above 6.4 million and regain some of what it lost since hitting a record high in February at close to 6.6 million.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)

Payrolls had another big rebound in July, gaining back another 98,000 of the more than 1.1 million lost during the pandemic as Pennsylvania battled a resurgence of the virus in July after Wolf eased social distancing restrictions that allowed businesses to reopen.

At the height of coronavirus-shutdown job losses, seasonally adjusted non-farm payrolls fell to the lowest level in at least three decades of federal data that goes back to the start of 1990 under the same methodology.

With payrolls at about 5.5 million jobs, Pennsylvania has regained 48% of the jobs lost since February, just before the pandemic hit.

It is still almost 600,000 down from where it was, or 1 in 10 jobs total, and still behind where payrolls were in 1997, a dramatic turnaround after the state hit a record of more than 6.1 million in February.

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Hardest hit has been the leisure and hospitality sector, which shed about 60% of its payroll as restaurants and bars were forced to shut down in-house service and shift food service to takeout or delivery.

Most sectors grew in July, with leisure and hospitality adding the most, 47,000 jobs, to 410,000. Still, it remains about 170,000 jobs — about 30% — behind where payrolls were in February. Education and health services also added 15,000 jobs, approaching 1.3 million, while government added nearly 16,000 and other services added almost 18,000.

Around 3 million Pennsylvanians have sought unemployment benefits since mid-March, including the self-employed, gig workers, freelancers and others who do not typically qualify.

Nationally, 30 states saw their unemployment rates decline in July, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, as customers returned and businesses reopened under loosened coronavirus restrictions around the country. Payrolls increased in 40 states, the bureau said.

At 13.7% in July, Pennsylvania was just one of 11 states with double-digit percentage unemployment rates, but it was also one of the states hardest hit by the virus in the spring.


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