Unemployment reached a 10-year high in California last month as the state’s economy struggles under business shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The California Employment Development Department reported a spike in unemployment claims because of COVID-19. As of May 22, the unemployment rate in California was 15.5%. The last time unemployment in the state was anywhere close to that was the height of the Great Recession in late 2010 (12.3%). The state lost more than 2.3 million payroll jobs in April, leaving just over 15 million payroll jobs in the state as of the end of April.

In San Joaquin County, the unemployment rate was 18.3% as of the end of April, up from 8.4% at the end of March, and up from 5.8% in April 2019. The EDD reports that Tracy had 35,400 workers employed as of the end of April out of the city’s workforce of 43,200, an 18% unemployment rate with 7,800 people in Tracy out of work.

The hardest-hit sector of the economy in San Joaquin County in raw numbers is leisure and hospitality, which went from 21,900 jobs in March to 12,300 jobs in April, a 43.8% reduction. Most of those jobs are in food service. Farm jobs saw an even sharper reduction, going from 12,500 jobs in March to 1,500 in April, an 88% drop, compared with 13,600 jobs in April 2019.

As of last week, the state of California had paid out $18.8 billion in unemployment benefits since March 14, representing about 5.4 million claims, to Californians who have been out of work since the state issued its stay-at-home orders.

That includes $1.9 billion, representing 547,000 individual claims, in federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, part of the $2 trillion CARES Act package passed by Congress in March. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance relief package is intended for business owners, self-employed workers and contractors who ordinarily would not be eligible for regular unemployment, but are out of work because of COVID-19.

Unemployment insurance claims in San Joaquin County started to rise in the third week of March as state and local governments ordered nonessential businesses to close. The San Joaquin County Economic Development Association reported 670 claims for the week ending March 14. Two weeks later, the association reported 18,628 claims for the week ending March 28.

Unemployment insurance claims peaked at the end of March, but San Joaquin County began to see more people applying for relief after the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was released April 28. In the week ending May 2, the county saw 4,051 unemployment insurance claims and 4,399 pandemic assistance claims for a total of 8,450 claims. The week ending May 16, the most recent week for which numbers are available, saw 6,896 in unemployment insurance and pandemic assistance claims in San Joaquin County.

In announcing the latest numbers, the California Employment Development Department also reported that another wave of federal funding, the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation extension, was launched last week. It will extend unemployment benefits for another 13 weeks for those whose benefits ordinarily would have run out.

Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 835-3030.

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