Unemployment claims in California fell to their lowest levels since coronavirus-linked business shutdowns began in March, federal officials said Thursday, a report that marks a key milestone on the recovery path for the state’s feeble job market.

California workers filed 158,900 first-time unemployment claims for the week that ended Oct. 17, which was down about 17,200 from the 176,100 initial claims that workers filed during the week ending on Oct. 10, the U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday.

It’s entirely possible that the employment picture could see greater improvement in the coming weeks now that state and local government agencies have begun to relax their clampdowns on business operations in their jurisdictions.

“With four Bay Area counties moving to less-restrictive tiers, that will create some job growth in the near term,” said Stephen Levy, director of the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy.

Nationwide, initial unemployment claims also improved to their lowest levels since mid-March.

Jobless claims in the United States totaled 787,000 for the week ending on Oct. 17, which was down 55,000 from the week of Oct. 10, during which U.S. claims totaled 842,000, according to the federal Labor Department.

During the week that ended on March 14, U.S. unemployment claims totaled 282,000. The worst week for the nation was the week ending March 28, when 6.87 million initial jobless claims were filed nationwide, an all-time worst.

The number of California unemployment claims was the lowest since the week of March 21, when workers statewide filed 186,300 jobless claims, according to this news organization’s analysis of statistics released by the federal government and the state’s Employment Development Department.

“Layoffs have not stopped, but have slowed,” said Michael Bernick, a former director of the EDD and an employment attorney with Duane Morris, a law firm.

That March 21 timeframe is crucial because that’s when state and local government agencies began to order wide-ranging business shutdowns in an attempt to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

The current number of unemployment claims represents a dramatic improvement from the week that ended on March 28, when California workers filed 1.06 million first-time claims for jobless benefits, an all-time record high for a single week.

“With the unemployment claims declining, it appears that the major layoffs may have come to an end,” Levy said.

All of these numbers, however, are far above the 57,600 in unemployment claims that were filed in California during the week that ended on March 14.

Plus, during January and February, the two months before the business shutdowns to battle the deadly bug began, unemployment claims averaged 44,800 a week.

The most recent week’s unemployment claims remain more than three times greater than the pre-shutdown levels.

The disparity serves as a grim reminder of how far California’s economy and job market must travel before they can be considered in recovery mode.

Plus, the Bay Area and California have proceeded at a glacial pace to dig themselves out of the economic hole created by the business shutdowns.

Both the state and the nine-county Bay Area have recovered the mammoth amounts of jobs they lost during March and April at a far slower pace than is the case with the United States overall.

Despite the uncertainties, Bernick believes the shaky job markets in California and the Bay Area have begun to stabilize.

“The worst is over,” Bernick said.


By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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