California unemployment claims fall slightly, stay far worse than normal

California workers filed slightly fewer initial claims for unemployment last week, but the filings remain far worse than the trends before coronavirus-linked business shutdowns began 16 months ago, the government reported Thursday.

In sharp contrast to California’s battered job market, jobless claims in the United States fell to their lowest level since the business shutdowns began, the U.S. Labor Department reported.

California’s initial unemployment claims totaled about 58,400 during the week that ended on July 10, which was down 450 claims from the week ending on July 3, according to the Labor Department.

Initial unemployment claims filings in California remain elevated even though state and local government agencies reopened the statewide economy in mid-June, noted Michael Bernick, an employment attorney with law firm Duane Morris and a former director of the state Employment Development Department.

“Nearly all business sectors are formally open, but most workers, who can work remotely, are not physically coming back to their workplaces,” Bernick said. “Many other workers are remaining on the labor market sidelines, receiving unemployment or not.”

The jobless claims for the most recent week are 30% higher than what they were before the business shutdowns began, this news organization’s analysis of the filings shows.

During January and February 2020, the final two months before state and local government officials locked down the California economy to combat the spread of the coronavirus, unemployment claims averaged 44,800 a week.

Nationwide, workers filed 360,000 initial claims for unemployment for the week that ended on July 10, which was down 26,000 from the 386,000 claims the filed in the week ending on July 3, the Labor Department reported.

California’s small businesses appear to be struggling, even in the wake of the reopening of the statewide economy in mid-June, according to Bernick, who analyzed figures that track the post-COVID recovery.

Small business openings in California, measured on June 30, have plummeted 51.9% compared with January 2020, which was before the shutdowns began, according to the TrackTheRecovery website. Openings have tumbled 24.8% from June 30, 2020, when the coronavirus-linked shutdowns were still in place.

California small business revenues have plunged 43.4% from January 2020. Revenues dropped 24.8% over the one-year period that ended on June 30.

“Despite the cheerleading by government officials, the small business numbers for California are not improving at all, they are declining,” Bernick said.

The 58,400 claims filed last week in California are only 9,600 fewer than the 68,000 claims that were filed the week that ended on June 12. A few days later, on June 15, government officials reopened the California economy.

Despite the reopening of the California economy, weekly claims totals are only 14% below where they were before the economy was unlocked about four weeks ago.

The current trend for unemployment claims suggests that California workers remain jobless at an abnormally high level — even in the wake of the reopening of the statewide economy in mid-June.

“There has been no rush to return to workplaces,” Bernick said. “Employers are finding difficulty filling jobs in restaurant, non-union construction, and other lower-wage service jobs.”

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