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California unemployment claims remain high at 230,000; claims from gig workers fall 53% in coronavirus era

New official figures on new claims for unemployment benefits in California dipped slightly last week but remained at the high pandemic level. Meanwhile, applications for special help for the self-employed and gig workers plummeted 53% last week, even ahead of new rules to stem a surge in suspected fraud.

New applications for conventional unemployment insurance were 230,225 last week, down 13,000 from 243,404 the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

New claims have been 200,000–300,000 since late May, following a big spike just after the state’s shelter orders for the coronavirus went into place in mid-March. Weekly claims were 30,000–50,000 before the virus.

Californians last week made up 29% of the 790,000 new claims nationwide, up from 28% of 866,000 applications the week before.

Residents receiving traditional unemployment benefits totaled 2.76 million in the most recent tally, for the week ending Sept. 5, down 256,000 from 3.01 million the week before.

Californians accounted for 22% of the 12.3 million Americans receiving benefits as of Sept. 5, roughly the same proportion as the in the week before, according to the latest figures available on recipients.

For the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits for the self-employed and gig workers, put into place in California in late April from the federal CARES Act, new claims totaled 204,700 in the Golden State last week, down by 236,000 from nearly 441,000 the week before.

On Sept. 11, the California Employment Development Department said it will require more proof before payments are made on the new type of benefits, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The department will no longer automatically backdate claims for the new benefits to the date of claimed work loss and limit multiple claims at the same address.

It’s one of the reforms Gov. Gavin Newsom has said he’s trying to make to the state’s employment safety net, which at one point had a backlog of 1 million claims and was not answering a number of calls.

The roll of Californians getting the new benefits dropped by almost 592,000 the week ending Aug. 29, the latest data available, to 6.39 million, down from 6.98 million the week before. Recipients of these benefits in the state accounted for 44% of the 14.5 million getting them nationwide, down from almost 48% of 14.6 million the week before.

The hardships of the pandemic economy also came just three months after a new California law, Assembly Bill 5, took effect, reclassifying many independent contractors as employees. However, categories of workers have been excluded from that law by legislation and court orders in the months since.

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

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