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Why LA County's Unemployment Rate Is So Much Higher Than Most Of California's

A woman enters a Los Angeles office of the state Employment Development Department. The EDD released dismal employment figures today, showing that 1-in-5 L.A. County workers are jobless. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
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Unemployment in Los Angeles County rose to a staggering 20.3% in April, with coronavirus-related business closures putting roughly one-in-five L.A. workers out of a job.

Statewide unemployment came to 15.5%, setting what the California Employment Development Department described as a historical record, and eclipsing California's 12.3% peak during the Great Recession.

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"This is unprecedented," said UC Riverside economics professor Gloria Gonzalez-Rivera, commenting on the grim unemployment report released by the EDD on Friday.

Chart shows a rise in the state unemployment rate. (California EDD)

The survey was taken in mid-April, capturing the economic toll of shuttering businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19. But with hundreds of thousands of Californians still filing claims for jobless benefits every week, the unemployment rate is likely even higher today.

California's leisure and hospitality industry -- which includes hotel, entertainment and restaurant workers -- saw the biggest losses. Compared to April of last year, close to 935,000 workers in that sector lost their jobs statewide.

Gonzalez-Rivera said L.A.'s economy has been hit hard because it relies so heavily on these kinds of service sector jobs, which often require face-to-face interaction. Other parts of California with higher concentrations of jobs that can be done remotely have fared better.

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"The regions that are technologically savvy will not be suffering as much as the economies that are relying on physical presences," she said.

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Tech-driven San Francisco County had an April jobless rate of 12.6%. Unemployment in Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley, rose to 11.7%. Meanwhile, L.A.'s unemployment rate now ranks as the sixth-highest among California's 58 counties.

Still, no region was spared from widespread job losses. Other Southern California counties also saw large unemployment spikes in the latest report, with San Bernardino's rate hitting 13.4%, Orange County at 13.8%, Ventura's at 14% and Riverside's at 15.3%.