California sees another increase in unemployment claims

Weekly unemployment claims in California saw another increase, with more than 200,000 people filing new claims since last week.

According to data from the U.S. Labor Department, California had 209, 516 people file for first-time unemployment claims in the week ending on Aug. 22. It’s an increase of roughly 19,000 compared to the week prior where 190,354 people filed new unemployment claims.

Mike Bernick, labor lawyer and former director of the state Employment Development Department, said California’s numbers remain high and the gap keeps widening between our state and the rest of the country.

“Based on the numbers this morning, we have over 25% of the new unemployment, regular unemployment filed in the nation,” he said.

Bernick added that the numbers are worse for independent contractors like gig workers who apply for federal pandemic relief. He said California has nearly 40% of the nation’s pandemic unemployment claims. California’s workforce makes up roughly 11% of the nation’s total workforce.

“What is shows is the difference between what's going on in the California economy and nationally, continues to grow,” Bernick said.

Among those affected is Hilda Lopez, an educator in San Leandro who was laid off weeks ago. She has been struggling to reach someone by phone at EDD.

“It's really frustrating and really you can't do nothing because it's impossible to talk to someone,” Lopez said.

EDD Director Sharon Hilliard said Monday that the agency is not answering 60% of the calls it receives for help. The agency is on pace to hire roughly 3,700 people to work in its call center by January 2021 as it struggles to work through a backlog of more than 1 million pending claims.

Anthony Costello was laid off in March. He said he applied for benefits right away and has received assistance, but he is still in crisis mode.

“I see people saying, ‘Well people who are unemployment are lazy, they don't want to work’,” Costello said. “I would give anything to have my old job back.”

So far, EDD has paid out more than $67 billion in unemployment insurance.

“To a significant degree we've become an unemployment insurance economy,” Bernick said. “Unless we're willing to change course, it sure doesn't look like the economy is going to change course through the end of this year.”

Twitter: @CristinaKTVU/ Instagram: @cristinarendontv