California unemployment claims drop, backlog and fraud persists

New unemployment numbers published by the U.S. Department of Labor Thursday show claims are the lowest they’ve been since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

State data provided by the Employment Development Department has unemployment claims for last week down to just 158,877 – a six-month low.

However, it’s still four times the number of claims California had seen at the beginning of the year. 

Claims for independent contractors have dropped dramatically amid indications that pandemic unemployment assistance claims were largely fraudulent.

“There was one week where we had over 400,000 pandemic unemployment assistance claims,” said lawyer and former EDD director Michael Bernick. “Now it’s pretty clear that a lot of that was just fraud.”

This as two Los Angeles rappers recently made a video boasting about defrauding the EDD. The song, titled “EDD” has since been removed from YouTube, but rapper "Nuke Bizzle" was arrested after federal agents learned of the music video.

What's more, scams and schemes have led to some people getting dozens of EDD debit cards sent unsolicited to their mailboxes. While there have been some arrests, including a major bust in Beverly Hills, some who have filed claims have still not seen any money.

“I feel mad and I feel stressed out and frustrated,” Jennifer Ruiz who’s unemployed said. “I’m stuck in limbo.”

Her claim may be one of the backlogged claims at the EDD. The state estimated 1.2 million claims won't be paid until late January.

However, the state’s added verification process has proven successful and is weeding out potentially fraudulent claims.

Other states have also issued unemployment fraud reports, including Arizona, which announced it flagged more than one million claims and Colorado, which said 75% of all pandemic unemployment claims were fake. California has yet to issue a similar report.

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @BrooksKTVU