California unemployment claims jump, improvement halts

California workers filed more unemployment claims last week than they did the week before, a setback that raises uncertainty about the strength of the statewide economic recovery.

Workers in California filed 61,900 initial claims for unemployment during the week that ended Sept. 4, up 5,600 from the 56,300 workers who filed first-time jobless claims during the week ending Aug. 28, the U.S, Labor Department reported Thursday.

The increase in claims halted a stretch of improvement for California during which jobless filings decreased for three weeks in a row.

Now, the unemployment filings are far above what is normal for a healthy economy in California, an indication that coronavirus-linked business shutdowns continue to haunt the statewide job market.

The latest filings are 38% higher than what they averaged during January 2020 and February 2020, when jobless claims averaged 44,800 a week. Those were the final two months before state and local government agencies ordered wide-ranging lockdowns to combat the spread of the deadly bug.

Some experts believe that the termination on Sept. 4 of a $300 weekly federal supplement for unemployment claims that increased the total benefit payment could prod workers to seek jobs rather than continue to collect unemployment.

However, it could be months before a clear picture emerges about whether workers in big numbers decide to eschew jobless benefits and attempt to seek employment.

The increase in California claims suggests the Golden State is recovering from its coronavirus-spawned maladies at a far slower pace than the United States overall.

Last week, 310,000 workers nationwide filed initial claims for unemployment, which was a decrease of 35,000 from the 345,000 who filed for jobless benefits in the United States the week before, the Labor Department reported. These numbers were adjusted for seasonal variations.

Using comparable numbers that aren’t adjusted to compensate for seasonal volatility, California now accounts for more than one of every five jobless claims — an eye-popping 21.8% — that are being filed in the United States.

Making matters tougher: California workers have been confronted by bureaucratic obstacles created by the Employment Development Department. The EDD has stumbled in its attempts to pay unemployed workers on a timely basis — or at all.

A broken call center and glitch-hobbled website that was based on a primitive computer language have coalesced to frustrate the EDD’s efforts to issue payments to California workers who had lost their jobs by the millions as businesses were shut down to stop the spread of the virus.

California has regained only 58.3% of the jobs it lost in March 2020 and April 2020 when a stunning 2.71 million workers statewide lost their jobs due to the onset of the business shutdowns. From May 2020 through July 2021, the state has recovered just 1.58 million of the vanished jobs.

The United States overall has recouped 74.5% of its lost jobs, fresh evidence of how badly California is lagging the nationwide employment rebound.

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