Data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show Northumberland County’s unemployment rate rose from 7.9% in March to 17.1% in April as the area began reeling from the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Information for May has not yet been released.
Northumberland County has a population of approximately 90,843 and an estimated workforce of 43,059, meaning about 4,000 workers lost their jobs from March to April.
Using federal statistics as a gauge, the numbers released through April are expected to begin improving, as the federal unemployment rate has dropped from 14.7% to 13.3% from April to May.
“I think at least in the past few weeks a lot of people have been called back to work,” Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano said. “Things have to be improving. There were a lot of people laid off because of COVID, but in the past two weeks there has been a big improvement as far as jobs returning.”
Schiccatano said the county did extend the face value period of tax collection, which will result in a two-to-three month delay in receiving payments and added that he’s optimistic the county will be able to collect at that point for the remainder of the year.
“We’re all going through hardships right now,” he said. “And if the county is also, we’ll have to buckle things down and tighten things up.”
Schiccatano said county residents continuing to follow guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is a key element in protecting not only the health of citizens, but the area economy.
“I think people are happy they’re back working and can go to restaurants and barbers and beauticians, but we need to remember to be diligent so we can continue to improve instead of going backwards.”
In Union County, the unemployment rate spiked from 5% to 14% over the same time period. In Lycoming County, to the north, unemployment went from 7.2% to 17%.
Montour fared the best of area counties, rising from 4.9% in March to 11.2% in April. Snyder County rose from 6.5% to 17.5% by April.
Sen. John Gordner, R-27, said Montour’s outperformance compared to other area counties can be attributed to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
“Montour has done better because of Geisinger,” he said. “If you go back to February numbers you would see Montour as having the lowest unemployment rate in my senatorial district.”
To the south, Dauphin County’s jobless rate rose from 5.1% to 14.6% and in Schuylkill County the numbers rose from 6.9% to 16.5%.
Gordner was critical of Gov. Tom Wolf’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in the economic arena. He cited a Wall Street Journal study that gave Pennsylvania an “F” grading, along with three other states in the country.
“There were 49 states that allowed real estate business. Pennsylvania was the only state that didn’t. For a while, 49 states allowed construction — Pennsylvania did not. At a time, 49 states were allowing car dealerships to sell and lease vehicles — we were the only state that didn’t. And 49 states considered the supply chain for automobiles to be essential — Pa. did not,” he said.
Gordner also voiced concerns about the ability of restaurants in the area to remain economically feasible.
“My wife and I visited Lost Mine-d restaurant in Shamokin on Friday, and they only have room for a few outside tables,” he said. “Restaurants operate on such tight margins that to only allow 50% capacity indoors, unless you have lots of outdoor seating room, it can really make it tough to stay open.”
He said the state government is currently watching the federal government closely to see when more relief packages may be arriving.
“Undoubtedly, they will do a fourth (stimulus package), but that looks like it won’t happen until July,” he said.