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New Unemployment Data Show Start of COVID-19 Impact in Lehigh Valley

By Nicole Radzievich Mertz on May 1, 2020

Lehigh Valley Labor Force

The unemployment rates in March show the initial impact of the business disruptions caused by COVID-19. (Graphic/Liz Martin)

Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate in March climbed from 4.6% to 5.8%, according to new data that reflects the first weeks of the business disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of unemployed totaled 20,800 of the 355,600-person labor force in Lehigh and Northampton counties, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

Why it’s important: It is the first local unemployment data that has been released since Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the shutdown of in-person business for non-life-sustaining businesses and issued stay-at-home orders. The statewide unemployment rate in March was 6%.

Historical perspective: Lehigh Valley’s unemployment rate in March 2019 was 4.3%. Annually, Lehigh Valley’s unemployment has been below 5% for the last three years. It was 5.3% in 2015 and 2016 and 6% in 2014.

What’s next: The unemployment rate for April could increase dramatically because of the new unemployment claims filed. There have been 37,000 new unemployment claims made in Lehigh Valley from mid-March through April 17, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

What do other economic indicators say: The national Gross Domestic Product, which measures goods and services output, fell by 4.8% during the First Quarter, the first decline since 2014, according to preliminary estimates released this week by U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Local GDP figures are reported annually. Lehigh Valley had a GDP of $41.2 billion in 2018.

What Federal Chairman Reserve Jerome Powell said this week: “Both the depth and the duration of the economic downturn are extraordinarily uncertain and will depend in large part on how quickly the virus is brought under control. The severity of the downturn will also depend on the policy actions taken at all levels of government to cushion the blow and to support the recovery when the public health crisis passes.”

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Lehigh ValleyQuick Facts

By the Numbers
$41.2 Billion

2018 Gross Domestic Product

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City Center Lehigh Valley
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10.6% of Labor Force
Employed in Manufacturing

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$3.8 Billion

Exports in 2019

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Air Products
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$65,119

Median Household Income

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PPL Electric Utilities
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672,907

Population

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Olympus
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358,000

Labor Force

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Lutron Electronics
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26.1% of Labor Force
Employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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5,073

Technology Patents

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Mack Trucks
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UGI
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NFI
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14% of the total community college degrees awarded in PA

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$7.3 Billion

Manufacturing Contribution to GDP

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BB&T
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69th largest metropolitan area in the U.S. by population

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Seedcopa
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10,754 degrees awarded by Lehigh Valley colleges (2017-18 academic year)

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Fuling
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85,000 employed in "Eds & Meds" sectors

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149,000

Population between ages 18 and 34

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