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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 V-shaped recovery may be less likely.

Number of Processed Claims Continues to Inch Upward. California processed 292,673 claims for regular unemployment insurance between July 12 and July 18. Processed claims over the past month 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 18, California had about 3.4 million employees receiving traditional unemployment benefits. For the past several weeks, continued traditional unemployment claims have remained steady near their peak COVID-19 level. 

Self-Employment Claims Rising, Exceed 1 Million for the First Time. Between July 12 and July 18, California had 1 million self-employed workers receiving unemployment benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance—a new program created to expand eligibility for unemployment insurance to self-employed workers. While the number of traditional unemployment claims has remained steady over the past month, the number of self-employed workers receiving benefits has increased by about 50 percent. (The graph below shows both traditional and self-employment claims. The most accurate historical comparison is between the Great Recession and COVID-19 traditional claims, as self-employment unemployment claims were not available during the Great Recession.)


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