Six months since Bay Area COVID-19 shutdown, economy remains fragile

Thursday marks six months since Bay Area counties started their coronavirus shutdowns with Gov. Gavin Newsom ordering a statewide shutdown just days later. 

That set off a bone-crushing economic recession. For California, a slight dip in unemployment claims is not a sign of imminent recovery but another milestone on a long road back.

In January and February, California's unemployment rate was a record low 3.9% until March 19, but it shot up to 5.3% after the governor's stay-at-home order. April's unemployment skyrocketed to 15.5% in April. Currently, California's official unemployment is 13.3% for July with August's rate coming out on Friday. Since then, more than 7.5 million people, 39% of California's workforce, have filed 10.6 million claims. Some of those workers have been laid off multiple times. 

"Our new unemployment claims continue to run way above the national level," said Michael Bernick, labor lawyer and former director of the Employment Development Department. 

It's humiliating and debilitating to people who've been wrestling with EDD for months to get their claims paid.

"I had to move back with my parents. Thankfully that was an option you know. I'm just super grateful that I have them. Otherwise, I would be in the street," said unemployed entrepreneur Sebastian Alvarez.

"I suffer from depression naturally. Normally I'm dealing with it well. In terms of this entire season of COVID-19. It has really messed with me emotionally," said Victor D'Vita who is also unemployed."        

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While California is home to 11% of the nation's workforce, the latest weekly claims show Californians filed 29% of the nation's unemployment claims and 30% of the nation's federal pandemic relief claims for freelancers, independent contractors, and gig workers. 

"Our economy is stalled, that there is no significant hiring going on," said Bernick. 

One report shows that fully half of the nation's offices remain closed. 

"Even office building, offices that are being allowed to reopen, many workers aren't coming back," said Bernick.

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Political posturing about a bounce-back notwithstanding, it took the nation more than six years to fully recover from the Great Recession setting up this ominous likelihood. 

"This of course is far, far more severe in terms of job losses and business losses in the Great Recession," said Bernick.

On Friday, the state of California will release its latest employment rate for August and experts say it won't be much lower if at all from the current 13.3%.