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Coronavirus: California jobless claims climb to worst levels in nearly 3 months

Unemployment claims in California climbed to their highest levels in nearly three months, federal officials reported Thursday, amid fears of benefit reductions for workers and fresh rounds of business shutdowns to combat the coronavirus.

The increase in California unemployment filings arrived at the same time that two state senators called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to staff the broken call centers at the state’s embattled labor agency 24 hours a day, seven days a week to whittle away at a mountain of unresolved claims.

The total number of first-time jobless claims in California is nearing 7 million over nearly four months since state and local government agencies began to impose wide-ranging business shutdowns in a quest to combat COVID-19.

The state’s Employment Development Department unemployment benefits unit has been unable to answer phones with any consistency as jobless workers attempt to initiate a new claim or obtain information about their benefits or claims status. Countless workers say glitches, sluggishness, and freezes continue to hobble the EDD’s unemployment web page.

“This is a monumental failure of government when Californians need it most,” state senators Scott Wilk and Melissa Hurtado state in a letter they jointly wrote to Gov. Newsom.

California workers filed 292,700 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended on July 18, up 8,000 from the 284,900 who filed jobless claims during the week ending July 11, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

Nationwide, unemployment claims rose for the first time in three weeks, totaling 1.42 million for the most recent reporting period. However, a four-week moving average that economists use to smooth out fluctuations in the weekly figures showed that jobless claims are in a downward trend across the United States.

In contrast, jobless claims in California are marching upward in a steady pattern. The four-week moving average in California has now increased for five consecutive weeks.

The rising jobless claims suggest California’s job market has begun to stagger again beneath the economic burden of business shutdowns ordered by state and local government agencies.

The initial unemployment claims in the state last week were at their worst levels since California workers filed 316,300 jobless claims during the week that ended May 2.

All told, 6.84 million California workers have filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits over a roughly four-month stretch starting with the March 14 filing week, this news organization’s analysis of the Labor Department’s statistics shows. Mid-March is the approximate time when the government began to shut down countless businesses in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Wilk, a Republican who represents some high desert areas in parts of Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County; and Hurtado, a Democrat who represents Kings County and parts of Fresno, Tulare, and Kern counties, have asked Newsom to staff the EDD phone centers around the clock every day.

“Nothing short of rectifying the backlog at EDD will help the millions of unemployed Californians struggling to put food on the table while waiting for their money to come through,” Hurtado and Wilk wrote in the letter to the governor. “The check’s in the mail just doesn’t cut it in these unprecedented times.”

The senators warned that the governor’s recent decisions to renew shutdowns of an array of businesses and retail hubs that had briefly resumed operations could force a growing number of California workers to line up for jobless benefits yet again, with no sign that the EDD is able to remedy its woes.

“While Californians struggle to make ends meet, the very least government can do is put in the man-hours necessary to straighten this out,” Wilk and Hurtado wrote in their letter.

Newsom should act swiftly to remedy the EDD’s ailments, the senators stated in their bipartisan request.

“This is frankly not the time to sit back and wait for EDD to catch up,” Hurtado and Wilk wrote. “This is the time for decisive action and leadership.”

Source: Orange County Register

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