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As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, California has experienced an unprecedented rise in unemployment since the beginning of March. Through March and April, the key measure that captured the impact of the virus on the state’s workers was the number of new unemployment claims being filed each week. Going forward, this number will still be important as a gauge of whether a second wave of business closures and layoffs is emerging. Equally important to track going forward, however, will be the level of continued claims—the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits in a given week. Should continue claims start to decline, it could signal that some businesses are bringing workers back. Should continued claims keep rising, however, it could signal that the state is in for a protracted slump.

Slight Uptick in Initial Claims. California had 246,115 initial claims between May 10 and May 16. This is a slight increase over the prior week. Overall, however, claims have trended down over the last several weeks after peaking at about 1 million during the week of March 22 to March 28. Nonetheless, the claims total for last week still is well above the record high prior to the COVID-19 outbreak of 115,462 in January 2010.

Growth in Continued Claims Slows. As of May 16, California had about 3.8 million workers receiving unemployment benefits. This includes about 3.3 million receiving traditional unemployment benefits and a little under 435,000 receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance—a new program created to expand eligibility for unemployment insurance to self-employed workers and others not typically eligible for the traditional program. Continued claims increased by around 200,000 last week, compared to about 300,000 in the prior week and about 700,000 two weeks prior. For the sake of accurate historical comparison, the graph below shows only the traditional unemployment claims.


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