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Labor Report

Pandemic’s Second Wave Hitting Europe Just as Flu Season Begins

The long-predicted second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly becoming a reality in many European nations, including those that were credited with helping to “flatten the curve” significantly through their strong mitigation efforts in the early weeks of the pandemic.

CNBC has described the new phenomenon as “pandemic fatigue” that is affecting nations such as Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.

“France and Spain are now seeing more new cases every day than they did when the virus originally peaked in the spring,” the news agency reported on September 18. “Israel … entered a second nationwide lockdown, shuttering restaurants, hotels, gyms, and more, amid soaring new cases and as the Jewish High Holiday season [was beginning].”

“Intensive care units in hospitals in some parts of France are now nearing capacity, [and] hospitalizations are doubling roughly every eight days in the United Kingdom.”

A physician who heads the World Health Organization’s emerging diseases unit told CNBC that some states in the U.S. are also reporting “worrying” increases as the typical flu season approaches.

CNN reported that despite the volume of cases reaching record highs in Europe, fatalities remain “well below their peak in April.”

Mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing have become more routine across the continent and hospitals are better-equipped for treating the coronavirus. However, the news network reported, “colder weather is beginning to set in and the flu season is approaching. The infection is spreading to older populations, and there are signs that people are growing tired of adhering to the restrictions.”

In Europe as in the United States, colder weather will also lead to fewer options for outdoor activities, including dining and recreation. “European nations are preparing for the shift with curfews on pubs and bars, and with tighter restrictions on residents,” CNBC reported on September 25.

PA Labor Department Postpones Rollout of New Unemployment System to Avoid Benefits Disruptions

At the recommendation of stakeholders and the U.S. Department of Labor, Pennsylvania will avoid potentially disrupting people relying on unemployment compensation by pausing the launch of a new system that will change how to file for and claim benefits.

The Unemployment Compensation Benefits Modernization (UC Ben Mod) system was scheduled to launch this fall. However, the Ben Mod Advisory Committee, which includes appointees representing all four legislative caucuses, recommended postponing the launch. With a record volume of UC applicants and several temporary federal unemployment compensation programs, the committee advised that now is not the time to change the UC system.

"For the many Pennsylvanians out of work because of COVID-19, the unemployment compensation system is providing a lifeline and crucial benefits that claimants need for food and housing during this unprecedented time," said L&I Secretary Jerry Oleksiak. "While we are prepared to transition to the new system, with the advice and recommendations from our communities, businesses, and legislative partners, we have decided to temporarily hold the launch." 

L&I will continue to work closely with state legislators and stakeholders to determine the appropriate time to launch the new UC system.

Despite the surge in UC claims and new federal UC programs to administer, L&I staff have remained on track with the training and system development needed to launch UC Ben Mod. With this adjustment, L&I staff can continue to focus on assisting claimants, and users will not need to learn to navigate a new system to file for unemployment during this high-volume time.

L&I has paid out more than $28 billion in unemployment claims since March 15. This total includes multiple new federal programs, including Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and the FEMA Lost Wages Assistance Program, which are administered by L&I.

For updates on a new launch date as it becomes available, visit

Free Mobile Phone App Alerts Users if They May Have Been Exposed to Coronavirus

Governor Tom Wolf announced that more than 165,000 Pennsylvanians have downloaded the COVID Alert PA exposure notification mobile app in the first week since the app was released to the Apple and Google app stores.

COVID Alert PA is a free, voluntary mobile app developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health in partnership with NearForm, UPenn and MIT Lincoln Laboratory using the Apple and Google Exposure Notification System. The app’s features include an interactive COVID-19 symptom checker, alerts of potential exposures to the virus, updates on the latest public health data about COVID-19 in PA and public health guidance for what to do if you have a potential exposure to COVID-19.

The app does not use GPS, location services, or any movement or geographical information. It will never collect, transmit or store personal information. In other words, it is completely anonymous. The app does collect user statistics like the number of downloads or the symptom check-in demographics that people can voluntarily share. In the first week of availability, we know:

  • There were 165,678 downloads onto smartphone devices;
  • There were an average of 23,659 COVID Check-Ins for symptoms per day; and
  • Around 96 percent of app users reported “feeling good” during their COVID Check-In per day.

Here’s how COVID Alert PA works:

  • The app uses anonymous Bluetooth low energy proximity technology to know when your phone is within six feet of another phone with the app for 15 minutes or more.
  • When an app user confirms a positive COVID-19 test result in the app, it will check to see if it matches any of the anonymous Bluetooth close contact interactions your phone has had over the last 14 days.
  • If there is a match, COVID Alert PA may send an exposure alert after taking into account the date, duration of exposure and the Bluetooth signal strength (which is used to estimate how close your phone was to the phone of the person having a positive test result).

The more people who download the app, the more effective it will be in helping to stop the spread of COVID. The app can be found in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching for “COVID Alert PA.”

Find more information on the COVID Alert PA app here.

With No Federal Pandemic Relief in Sight, Airlines Begin Massive Layoffs

Layoffs for as many as 50,000 U.S. airline workers have begun as members of Congress and the White House remain at odds on new COVID-19 relief legislation.

American Airlines informed executive staff in a September 30 that it would furlough 19,000 employees, NBC News reported. That’s 14% of the company’s pre-pandemic workforce. Meanwhile, United Airlines told employees in a letter it would furlough 13,000. Both companies cited the absence of a new stimulus package as the determining factor in their layoffs.

USA Today reported that Trump administration officials met with U.S. House leadership this week but the sides were unable to agree on bipartisan legislation. The Democratic-led U.S. House adopted a $3 trillion stimulus package known as the HEROES Act in May, but the Republican-led Senate has refused to take up the measure.

With the layoffs about to commence on October 1, the House “voted mostly along party lines” to adopt a $2.2 trillion relief package, which includes $25 billion in support for airlines. “But it was unlikely to be taken up by the Senate,” USA Today reported.

A provision in the CARES Act, which was signed into law in March, covered nearly 75% of airlines’ payroll expenses on the condition that they not conduct layoffs before October 1.

In addition to American and United, Delta told employees that an early retirement program helped the company avert immediate layoffs, but it could face an overstaffing of pilots by November 1. Southwest warned employees that layoffs remain a “last resort” if the airline doesn’t get more federal aid and if it is unable to reduce costs significantly through worker concessions.

American and United each told employees that separated employees could be recalled if federal funding becomes available.

COVID-19 has devastated air travel volume in the U.S. During the early weeks of the pandemic, passenger totals were down 95% from 2019 levels. At that time, most of those flying were crew members and healthcare workers traveling to virus hot spots. Travel in general remains far below pre-pandemic levels and many travelers are still reluctant to fly due to health concerns.

The broader travel industry is also in dire straits. Before the pandemic, the industry employed 15.8 million, about one in every 10 American workers. More than half have been laid off or lost their jobs completely. That includes folks who work at airports and hotels.

Economist: Nation’s Weekly Unemployment Numbers Remain ‘Too High to Call the Recession Over’

The nation’s first-time unemployment claims totaled 837,000 for the week ending September 26, a figure 36,000 less than the prior week’s upwardly revised total, yet still “too high to call the recession over,” CNBC reported, citing analysis from the chief financial economist for MUFG Union Bank.

The new preliminary weekly total also bettered the 850,000 predicted by economists who were surveyed in advance by Dow Jones. Yet, the new figure may be distorted because the nation’s most populous state by far, California, “is taking two weeks off from processing [new] claims” as it implements new fraud prevention measures into its unemployment benefits system, CNBC reported.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics revised the first-time claims total for the week ending September 19 from 870,000 to 873,000. The new four-week moving average declined slightly to 867,250.

Initial claims have now totaled fewer than 1 million for five consecutive weeks following a five-month period in which new claims exceeded 1 million every week. Continuing claims for the week ending September 19 were 11.77 million, a decrease of 980,000 from the prior week. (The reporting of continuing claims data by the BLS lags one week behind initial claims data.)

“However, the overall trend remains stubbornly high,” CNBC reported. “Prior to the pandemic, weekly claims had been around 200,000.”

As a result, the advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate was 8.1% for the week ending September 19, a decrease of 0.6% from the prior week’s adjusted rate.

Those unemployment figures do not account for those individuals collecting other forms of benefits including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). For the week ending September 12, there were 11.8 million Americans claiming PUA, while 1.8 million were claiming PEUC.

All told, the number of individuals claiming unemployment benefits in any programs for the week ending September 12 was 26.5 million, an increase of almost 485,000 from the prior week. For the comparable calendar week in 2019, just 1.4 million individuals were claiming benefits in all programs.

New York and New Jersey were among the states with the highest week-to-week increases in initial claims for the week ending September 19. New York’s figure grew by 7,893 while New Jersey’s grew by 5,038. Maryland had the greatest week-to-week decrease for the same period, minus-2,197.

September 2020 National Jobs Update

The seasonally adjusted national unemployment rate fell for a fifth consecutive month in September 2020, though at a slower pace, dropping to 7.9%, down 0.5% over the month. The rate in September was down 6.8% from 14.7% in April, its highest level in the history of the seasonally adjusted series dating back to 1948. (Prior to this time, unemployment was estimated to have hit roughly 25% during the Great Depression of the 1930s.) As a result, the national unemployment rate as of September had recovered roughly 60% of the increase seen between February and April (11.2% - from 3.5% to 14.7%).

This and the other changes to data noted in this update reflect the evolution of the national employment situation through the coronavirus pandemic**. Over the month, unemployment rolls fell by 970,000 individuals, lowering total unemployment to 12.580 million. Since hitting its series record high of 23.078 million in April, total unemployment has declined by 10,498,000. However, as has been the case during the pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has indicated that unemployment figures would have been higher for the month if survey respondents had been properly classified as unemployed on temporary layoff.

As of September 2020, the national unemployment rate stood 4.4% higher than its level of 3.5% in February 2020 (which matched the 50 year low seen in 2019) with total unemployment standing 6.793 million higher than the February 2020 level of 5.787 million individuals. For context, the unemployment rate had declined 1.2% with total unemployment down by 1.731 million individuals over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National unemployment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Unemployment – 12,580,000
  • Change Over Month –    DOWN   970,000
  • Change Over 7 Months –    UP    6,793,000
  • Change Over Year –    UP   6,827,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –    UP    5,062,000
  • Rate Change Over Month –   DOWN    0.5%
  • Rate Change Over 7 Months –    UP   4.4%
  • Rate Change Over Year –    UP   4.4%
  • Rate Change Over Trump Term –    UP   3.2%
  • Rate Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    DOWN   3.3%

As indicated above, total unemployment’s rounded percentage of the labor force, or unemployment rate, fell over the month (rate = unemployment / labor force). The labor force is the total number of employed individuals combined with the total number of unemployed individuals actively searching for work. Growth in the labor force can be a sign of a strengthening economy from more people working and/or more individuals searching for jobs. After recovering in recent months, the national labor force fell in September 2020 by 695,000 individuals, a combination of total employment* rising by 275,000 individuals and total unemployment down by 970,000 individuals as noted above, lowering its total to 160,143,000.

With the decline in September, national labor force growth fell to 3,662,000 individuals (unemployment -10,498,000 & employment +14,160,000) since hitting its low of 156,481,000 in April 2020 during the coronavirus emergency (with the amount recovered falling from 54% to 45% of the loss experienced between February and April -8.065 million). The September 2020 labor force stood 4,403,000 individuals (unemployment +6,793,000 & employment -11,196,000) lower than its level of 164,546,000 in February 2020 (near the record high of 164,606,000 in Jan. 2020). For context, the national labor force had grown by 4,899,000 individuals (unemployment -1,731,000 & employment +6,630,000) over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National labor force statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Labor Force – 160,143,000
  • Change Over Month –    DOWN    695,000
  • Change Over 7 Months –    DOWN   4,403,000
  • Change Over Year -   DOWN    3,908,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –    UP    496,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    UP    3,884,000

Non-farm* job rolls rebounded for a fifth consecutive month, albeit at a slower pace, with growth of 661,000 in September 2020, raising total non-farm employment to 141,720,000. As of September 2020, non-farm job rolls have recovered by 11,417,000 since hitting the employment level low of 130,303,000 in April 2020 during the coronavirus emergency, or by slightly more than half (52%) of the loss experienced between February and April (-22.160 million).

As of September 2020, total non-farm employment stood 10,743,000 less than the record high level of 152,463,000 in February 2020. For context, non-farm employment had grown by 6,836,000 over President Trump’s term as of February 2020. National non-farm employment statistics for the month are as follows:

  • Total Non-Farm Employment – 141,720,000
  • Change Over Month –    UP    661,000
  • Change Over 7 Months –    DOWN    10,743,000
  • Change Over Year –    DOWN    9,648,000
  • Change Over Trump Term –    DOWN    3,907,000
  • Change Over Obama 2nd Term –    UP    10,364,000

*Total employment for labor force provided by U.S. Census Household survey. The separate BLS Establishment survey measures non-farm jobs only.

**Survey periods for data are as of the middle of the month, meaning changes occurring beyond this time are not captured for the month.