Explosion of unemployment hits the Golden State amid coronavirus crisis

Last week, 3.3 million Americans filed for unemployment compensation, four times what the average was during the early months of the Great Recession. 

That's equivalent to laying off or furloughing more than the entire nine-county Bay Area workforce; all full-time, part-time employees and gig workers. 

Labor attorney Mike Bernick, former director of the California Employment Development Department, said the state's once unassailable decade long job growth streak blew up this month. 

"The week of March 7th, there were around 41,000 new claims in our state. That increased to 57,000 the week of the 14th," he said. "It skyrocketed up to 186,000 at the end of last week. And we're still waiting on numbers for this week, but I expect it to be double or triple that amount." 

However, Bernick says the federal government's massive $360 billion job retention program is historical. The program is designed to avert layoffs and keep paychecks coming in. 

He said while it's an unprecedented employee retention measure, "we'll have to see in the next couple weeks whether that can really stem this exploding layoffs and furlough." 

For Laurel Hahn, it can't come soon enough. 

"I found myself screaming at the computer yesterday and I'm in that field," she said. 

Hahn was recently laid off from her job as a senior supply chain manager. She knows, in this environment, that filing for unemployment—benefits she paid for, is becoming a virtual impossibility because the only way you can apply is online. 

"I went to the web site for about 48 hours and I kept kind of going in circles and I kept getting an error message," said Hahn. 

When she called for help she encountered another major roadblock. 

"They're over inundated with the calls. So, you get a recording and then it hangs up on you," she said. 

Hahn, a seasoned computer professional, was able to get a non-public technical support number and after many hang-ups, she was told that Safari, was not a supported browser for the site and that she needed to download Chrome. 

But even that did not work and getting more phone support was impossible. 

"It was just frustrating when you just wanted to reach out and say, 'Somebody help me.'"

Experts expect bigger claims are coming in the following weeks.