Study Estimates 1 In 5 Californians Have Applied For Unemployment

(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

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Roughly one in five people in California's workforce have applied for initial unemployment insurance benefits, including a "staggering" 37% of workers with no more than a high school diploma.

That's the estimate of a new study from the California Policy Lab that analyzed unemployment insurance claims from March 15-April 11.

Numbers filing in two of the hardest hit industries:

  • One in three workers in the food and accommodations
  • One in five workers in retail sales

That's meant younger and less educated workers have been disproportionately affected.

"The way this crisis has played out, much of this unemployment has been concentrated among this already vulnerable group," said Till von Wachter, a UCLA economics professor who worked on the study.

What's more, these workers unemployment benefits will be on average lower because they have lower prior earnings, he said.


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It may come as a surprise that, during a time when nurses and doctors are on the front line sof the pandemic, the health care industry has also lost jobs. It saw the third highest number of unemployment claims in recent weeks, according to the analysis.

"We typically consume a lot of health care services," von Wachter said. "[But] nobody's going to the doctor at the moment. While some parts of the health care system are in extreme demand, other parts are not."

In the three week-period from March 22-April 11, California saw 2.6 million unemployment claims.

The highest three-week total during the Great Recession was fewer than 300,000, the study said.

There is, however, a bit of a silver lining in the analysis when it came to workers' optimism about the economy.

"Ninety percent of unemployment insurance claimants since the COVID-19 crisis in the labor markets started expect to be recalled," von Wachter said.