California’s unemployment rate soared to 15.5% in April, as the nation’s most populous state lost 2.3 million jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic that caused the closure of most companies.
The state’s unemployment rate has increased 10.2 percentage points since March, the largest one-month increase since 1976, when the state began using its current formula to measure job loss.
He broke the record set in March. And it shows, just one month after the pandemic hit, 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 Department of Employment Development tell only 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, and the department reported that 5.1 million people have applied for unemployment benefits since March.
The surge in claims has depleted the state’s unemployment trust fund, forcing it to borrow billions of dollars from the federal government. Department director Sharon Hilliard said the agency is preparing to hire an additional 1,800 people to handle the claims. But he said that to answer all the department’s phone calls, he would need a staff of 28,000 full-time employees working from 8 a.m. at 8 p.m. seven days a week.
Melanie Hern has received no unemployment money even though she lost her job as a waitress more than two months ago.
The 28-year-old has been calling the California agency overwhelmed with unemployment claims every day, but he is often put on hold or hung up. He said the agency last asked him to verify his identity five weeks ago, but has received no response even after sending the request.
Hern said she took out loans from her family’s funds, and her boyfriend stepped in to pay most of her bills.
“I am getting into debt because I have to delay my bills as much as I can in hopes of obtaining unemployment,” he said. She said she had been reluctant to check how much she owed: “It’s one of those things I stopped looking at because your stomach is making you a little sick.”
The Folsom resident said she plans to return to work next week at a restaurant.
But she said “that’s not going to make up for the two and a half months I’ve been out of a job” and the unemployment benefits that haven’t come.
There have been similar stories in California. On Thursday, state lawmakers expressed their constituents’ frustration to Hilliard during a public hearing.
“I understand there is an unprecedented workload, but I think the government can do better and has to do better right now,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco. “We have never heard of the kind of suffering that people are experiencing right now.”
Hilliard said he agreed with Chiu that the delays “are not acceptable.”
“We are working hard to make sure we address all concerns as quickly as possible,” he said.
Mia Foster, 37, lives in Elk Grove with her husband and three children. She was fired from her job providing IT services to health clinics. She said it took her five weeks to get her unemployment benefits. She said she had to ration the food with her children to make it last longer.
“At first I thought it was fine,” he said. “But after a week or two, it really affects you mentally.”