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COVID-19 is throwing fewer Lancaster County residents out of work, but still blocking idled workers from returning to their jobs, new data indicate.

The number of county residents filing initial claims for unemployment benefits continues to dwindle, falling last week by 15.1% to 583, the fewest since the pandemic began in mid-March, according to Lancaster County Workforce Development Board figures released Thursday.

Still, the volume of new claims filed last week by Lancaster County residents was nearly triple the weekly volume here before the pandemic hit.

Once idled, unemployed county residents are needing a while to get recalled or find an alternative job, the board’s statistics indicate.

Some 24,600 Lancaster County residents filed continuing claims for unemployment in the most recent week, according to the board, down 23.4% from the previous week. But that’s still six times the pre-pandemic level.

Local economist Naomi Young has explained that while the county’s status under Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic-control plan has been upgraded to green, allowing nearly all businesses in the county to reopen, “significant restrictions” on operations remain in effect for many of them.

Demand is down as well, Young has said, a point reinforced by Thursday’s announcement by the U.S. Commerce Department that the nation’s gross domestic product plunged at an annual rate of 32.9% in the second quarter.

These factors limit the number of furloughed employees the businesses need to recall, said Young, director of the Center for Regional Analysis of the Economic Development Company of Lancaster County.

Some employers, though, have said that the extra $600 weekly unemployment benefit enacted due to the pandemic also deterred jobless people from pursuing jobs on the low end of the wage scale. It expired Saturday, though a Congressional extension is possible.

As the number of initial claims filed by county residents dropped last week, so did the number filed statewide. It fell 7.9% to 35,000.

However, the number rose nationally, albeit slightly, climbing 0.8% to 1.43 million.

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