Jobless claims filed by California workers dropped by a tiny amount last week — but the statewide totals for unemployment claims still account for a jaw-dropping one out of every five filed in the United States — a report released Thursday shows. An estimated 160,000 California workers filed initial claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended on Jan. 2, which was down 8,700 from the 168,700 who filed first-time jobless claims during the week ending on Dec. 26, the U.S. Labor Department reported. Jobless claims in the United States totaled 787,000 last week, a small decrease from the 790,000 initial unemployment claims that were filed the prior week, according to the Labor Department release on Thursday. “Unemployment remains extremely high, although not nearly as bad as it was in the spring, and the pace of improvement in the job market has slowed dramatically from the summer,” said Gus Faucher, an economist at PNC Financial. Faucher expects job growth topick up in the spring as vaccine distribution continues, better weather allows for more outdoor activities and states gradually loosen restrictions. Despite the improvement, California’s jobless claims represent 20.3% of the jobless claims filed in the entire nation for the week that ended Jan. 2, this news organization’s analysis of the federal report determined. California’s brutally high share of the nationwide unemployment claims is an ominous reminder of the coronavirus-spawned economic toll that has battered workers in the state for 10 dreary months. Workers in California are losing their jobs in record numbers, partly as a result of wide-ranging shutdowns ordered by state and local government agencies that are scrambling to halt the spread of the deadly bug. Making matters far more dreadful for California workers: The state Employment Development Department has faltered in its efforts to break up a logjam of legitimate claims that are stuck in the EDD’s bureaucratic backlog. For several weeks, the backlog shrank during October and into early November. But from Nov. 18 through Dec. 30, the unemployment claims backlog in California increased for six of those seven weeks, including the three most recent weeks. “EDD’s ability to continue to decrease the backlog will depend on a reduction in the level of new claims, which is keeping the backlog high,” said Michael Bernick, an employment attorney with law firm Duane Morris and a former EDD director. The unemployment claims backlog in California was as low as 542,000 as of Nov. 11. However, as of Dec. 30, the California jobless claims bottleneck was at 777,800 — a staggering increase of 44% from the lows that were briefly achieved in early November, an analysis of the EDD backboards shows. Many economists, along with the Federal Reserve’s policymakers, say they’re hopeful that once the coronavirus vaccines are more widely distributed, the economy will achieve a broader recovery in the second half of the year. The $900 billion financial aid package that Congress enacted last month should also help accelerate an eventual rebound. Late Wednesday, Goldman Sachs upgraded its forecast for economic growth this year to a robust 6.4%, up from 5.9%. Its upgrade was based in part on the expectation that the Biden administration, with help from the now-Democratic Senate, will support another rescue aid package. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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