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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 remain steady or keep rising, however, it could signal that a rapid economic recovery is less likely.

Slight Uptick in Initial Claims Continues for Fourth Week. California processed 287,732 initial claims for regular unemployment insurance between July 5 and July 11. Initial claims over the past month—ranging from 270,000 to 290,000 per week—have been elevated above levels seen during May and the first two weeks of June. During that time, weekly claims held steady in the neighborhood of 200,000 to 250,000. Weekly claims since mid-March have remained well above the record high prior to the COVID-19 outbreak of 115,462 in January 2010.

Continued Claims Hold Steady Near Their COVID-19 Peak. As of July 11, California had about 4.3 million workers receiving unemployment benefits. This includes about 3.4 million receiving traditional unemployment benefits and about 900,000 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. For the past several weeks, continued traditional unemployment claims have remained steady near their peak COVID-19 level. For the sake of accurate historical comparison, the graph below shows only the traditional unemployment claims.


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