The Mercury News Weekend
California’s jobless claims keep climbing
Nearly 11 million new filings made since coronavirus shutdowns began
California’s feeble economy ended a brutal 2020 on a bleak note Thursday: A staggering 10.8 million workers have filed new claims for unemployment since coronavirus-linked shutdowns began and new claims rose again last week amid widening worries about the deadly bug’s spread.
Initial claims for unemployment benefits in California totaled 167,600 for the week ended Dec. 26, an increase of about 9,000 from the
158,700 in first-time jobless claims filed the prior week, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.
California’s increase was in sharp contrast to the national trend. Across the U.S., initial claims for unemployment benefits totaled 787,000 last week, down 19,000 from the prior week, the Labor Department reported.
Since government-mandated business lockdowns began in mid-March, California workers have filed a jaw- dropping 10.77 mil
lion initial claims for unemployment, this news organization’s analysis of the federal reports shows.
“As it has ( been) for the past two months, California’s new claims are above those of other states,” said Michael Bernick, an employment attorney with the law firm Duane Morris and a former director of the state Employment Development Department.
California accounted for 21.3% of all initial unemployment claims filed in the nation. That was higher than the week ending on Dec. 19 when the state made up 19.7% of the U.S. tally.
The state’s share of U. S. claims is particularly dis
turbing given that California’s total labor force represents just 11% of the national total.
Bernick warned that the jobs that have been lost in California during the coronavirus- linked recession won’t come back anytime soon.
“The impacts of this economic downturn will be greater than the four previous downturns of the past 40 years,” Bernick said.
Bernick believes the coronavirus economic contraction will exceed California’s manufacturing downturn in the 1980s, the aerospace slump of the 1990s, the dotcom meltdown of the early 2000s and the Great Reces
sion of 2007 through 2009.
With the majority of the state’s counties under the most restrictive tier as coronavirus cases surge and hospital capacity shrinks, many businesses are hard-pressed to operate if they are not prohibited altogether.
A four-week moving average that economists use to smooth out weekly volatility, such as a sharp one-time drop in the week that ended Dec. 19, outlines what’s happened in the past month.
Over the four weeks that ended Dec. 26, California’s initial claims averaged 167,600 a week. That was up 9,300 from the weekly average for the four weeks that ended on Dec. 19, this
news organization’s analysis of the claims reports shows.
The rise comes as the EDD continues to struggle with various components of its response to requests from millions of people trying to process, update or obtain information about their unemployment claims.
In a report to the state Legislature, the EDD disclosed that from Dec. 6-19, the agency’s phone banks received 4.44 million calls. The EDD answered 474,400 — or 10.7% — of those calls. The EDD estimated that 370,100 of the inbound phone calls were from unique callers. In other words, numerous people phoned more than once.
Longer term, the big problem for California appears to be the shattered hotel, restaurant, cocktail lounge and retail sectors, along with a host of small businesses such as hair salons and other personalcare outlets.
Bernick believes reviving those sectors will require intervention by state government officials.
“Rebuilding California’s decimated small-business economy should be a lead goal,” Bernick said. “This will require more changes in state policy beyond reopening the economy.”