California's jobless rate hit 15.5% in April, 2M jobs gone

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California’s unemployment rate soared to 15.5% in April as the nation’s most populous state lost 2.3 million jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic that shuttered most businesses.

The state’s unemployment rate increased 10.2 percentage points since March, the largest one month rise since 1976, when the state began using its current formula to measure job losses.

It broke the record set in March. And it shows, just one month after the pandemic took hold, that California had already surpassed the 12.3% unemployment rate it reached during the Great Recession a decade ago.

Still, the numbers released Friday by the California Employment Development Department only tell part of the story. The report is based on a survey conducted the week of April 12. Many more have lost their jobs since then, with the department reporting 5.1 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since March.

The surge of claims has exhausted the state’s unemployment trust fund, forcing it to borrow billions of dollars from the federal government. Department Director Sharon Hilliard says the agency is preparing to hire an additional 1,800 people to handle the claims. But she said to answer all of the department’s phone calls it would need a staff of 28,000 full-time employees working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

Melanie Hern has not received any unemployment money even though she lost her job as a bartender over two months ago.

The 28-year-old has been calling the California agency overwhelmed with unemployment applications everyday but is often put on hold or is hung up on. She said the agency last asked her to verify her identity five weeks ago, but she hasn’t heard back even after sending what was requested.

Hern says she has turned to borrowing funds from her family, and her boyfriend has stepped in to pay most of her bills.

“I’m going into debt, because I’m having to push back my bills as much as I can in hopes of getting unemployment,” she said. She said she has resisted checking how much she owes: “It’s one of those things where I’ve stopped looking because it makes you kind of sick to your stomach.”