March 26, 2020 / 9:01 PM / 3 days ago

Pennsylvania was hardest hit by surge in U.S. jobless claims

March 26 (Reuters) - Pennsylvania, so far not a hot zone for the spread of coronavirus in the United States, recorded the biggest jump in unemployment benefits claims last week amid a record-setting national wave of layoffs, eclipsing California and other states that are home to epicenters of the outbreak.

The “Keystone State,” which has reported about 1,600 coronavirus cases, putting it behind 10 other states, according to a Reuters tally, saw new jobless claims from more than 360,000 people - roughly twice that of the next highest, Ohio.

Meanwhile, California had 129,000 new applications, and Washington state, the original U.S. hot spot for the coronavirus outbreak, recorded 119,000. New York, which is leading the nation in cases of the COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by the virus, had 66,000 new jobless filings.

Overall, nearly 3.3 million people sought unemployment benefits in the United States for the first time last week, nearly five times the previous record, as coronavirus containment measures brought the country to a sudden halt.

A picture of how the job losses unfolded in Pennsylvania - from steel plants to ski resorts - comes through layoff notices companies send to the state’s Department of Labor & Industry.

Nearly two dozen so-called WARN notices - required under the 1988 Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act - were posted there here since March 16, touching every corner of a state that is critical to President Donald Trump's reelection chances. Trump, a Republican, narrowly carried the state in 2016 and until the outbreak had touted the strong U.S. economy as a top selling point of his presidency.

Since Trump took office in January 2017, Pennsylvania has added more than 175,000 jobs, but its job growth of roughly 3% in that time has lagged the U.S. total expansion of 4.7%.

In Western Pennsylvania, IPSCO Koppel Tubulars LLC, a unit of Luxembourg-based steelmaker Tenaris SA, informed the state last week of plans to cut more than 350 jobs. Demand for the steel pipes it makes was hit by the twin blows of the coronavirus outbreak and a related plunge in oil prices. Tenaris also cut jobs in Ohio, Texas and Arkansas.

“These are extraordinary times for our sector that require us to implement difficult, short-term measures to temporarily lean our operations to maintain a long-term solid position to serve our customers,” Luca Zanotti, president of U.S. operations for Tenaris, said in a statement.

In the eastern part of the state, the travel reductions associated with the outbreak forced the closure of two resorts that are popular with skiers in winter, affecting more than 1,000 jobs. Bear Creek Mountain Resort cut 352 jobs, according to its WARN notice, while Camelback Resort’s shutdown affected 720 positions. Both notices said they expected the layoffs to be temporary.

The largest layoff notice posted in the state so far has come from the Greater Philadelphia YMCA, which closed all of its facilities because of COVID-19 and the ensuing hygiene and social-distancing requirements. The shutdown cost 3,400 jobs.

Reporting by Dan Burns Editing by Paul Simao

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