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.
Initial Claims At Lowest Level in Two Months. California had 212,343 initial claims between May 17 and May 23. This is the lowest weekly total since the week of March 15 to March 21. 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 23, California had about 3.9 million workers receiving unemployment benefits. This includes about 3.4 million receiving traditional unemployment benefits and a little under 520,000 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. The pace of growth in continued claims has been slowing in recent weeks. Continued claims increased by around 100,000 last week, compared to about 200,000 in the prior week and about 300,000 two weeks prior. For the sake of accurate historical comparison, the graph below shows only the traditional unemployment claims.