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Demand for unemployment grows in state, nation
Merced County total employment grew 3.99%, the fastest among the San Joaquin Valley’s eight counties in 2021. Stanislaus County total employment grew the second fastest at 3.56%.

The first week of May saw more than 4.1 million people collecting unemployment insurance with the state paying out a total of $8.9 billion in benefits, according to the Employment Development Department.

Nationally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released the jobs report on Friday with the unemployment reaching 14.7 percent in the U.S., which is a level not seen since the Great Depression. The Labor Department said Friday that 20.5 million jobs vanished in April in the worst monthly loss on record, triggered by the coast-to-coast shutdowns of factories, stores, offices and other businesses. Nearly all the job growth achieved during the 11-year recovery from the financial meltdown has now been lost in one month.

The labor department said employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality. Employment in leisure and hospitality plummeted by 7.7 million, or 47 percent. Almost three-quarters of the decrease occurred in food services and drinking establishments. Employment also fell in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry and in the accommodation industry, according to the BLS. Employment in retail trade declined by 2.1 million, with job losses occurring in clothing and clothing accessories stores, motor vehicle and parts dealers, miscellaneous store retailers and furniture and home furnishings stores.

The BLS acknowledged that its survey-takers erroneously classified millions of Americans as employed in April even though their employers had closed down. If they had been counted correctly, unemployment would have been nearly 20 percent, the government said. However, the BLS doesn't change the results submitted by its survey-takers because that could be seen as political manipulation.

Also, people who are out of work but aren't actually looking for a new job are not officially counted as unemployed. An estimated 6.4 million people lost jobs last month but did not search for new ones, most likely because they saw little prospect of finding work with the economy shut down.

The unemployment report indicated that the vast majority of those laid off in April — roughly 75 percent — consider their job loss temporary, a result of businesses that were forced to suddenly close but hope to reopen and recall their laid-off workers.

Over the past seven weeks, an estimated 33.5 million American workers have filed for unemployment benefits. Friday's job-loss report captures just five weeks, it is based on a mid-April survey of businesses and households, and it is a net figure — that is, it takes into account the hiring surge at companies like Amazon and many grocery stores. The component of general merchandise stores that includes warehouse clubs and supercenters gained 93,000 jobs, according to the BLS.

In April, unemployment rates rose sharply among all major worker groups. The rate was 13 percent for adult men, 15.5 percent for adult women, 31.9 percent for teenagers, 14.2 percent for Whites, 16.7 percent for Blacks, 14.5 percent for Asians and 18.9 percent for Hispanics. The rates for all of these groups, with the exception of Blacks, represent record highs for their respective series, according to the BLS.

The number of persons who usually work full time declined by 15 million over the month, and the number who usually work part time declined by 7.4 million. Part-time workers accounted for one-third of the over-the-month employment decline. The number of persons at work part time for economic reasons nearly doubled over the month to 10.9 million. These individuals, who would have preferred full-time employment, were working part time because their hours had been reduced or they were unable to find full-time jobs. This group includes persons who usually work full time and persons who usually work part time.

In California, since the week ending March 14, the EDD processed a total of 4.1 million claims for benefits and paid a total of $8.9 billion in benefit payments including both first benefit payments and ongoing bi-weekly benefits once workers have a claim established. Those claims include both Unemployment Insurance and the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which launched on April 28. PUA recipients may be self-employed, business owners, independent contractors, those who have limited work history and those who have recently collected all of the available benefits on their regular UI claim. California marks the week ending March 14 as the start of unemployment demand related to COVID-19.

Over just the last eight weeks, the EDD has paid more than a third of what was paid in benefits during the highest year of demand during the last recession, which was $22.9 billion in calendar year 2010.

“The EDD continues to integrate hundreds of additional redirected employees and assistance from vendor staff on a continuing basis to help us meet this challenge,” said EDD Director Sharon Hilliard. “The demand for benefits is far beyond anything we’ve ever seen even in the worst of recessions and we’re drawing on all resources possible to process and provide payments to so many of our neighbors in need.”

The Stanislaus County Department of Workforce Development was one of 42 agencies to be allocated funds from the $10 million program operated by California EDD and the Labor & Workforce Development Agency. The Stanislaus County department was awarded $171,000.

The agencies will use the emergency funds to provide supportive services to underserved populations, particularly participants in the English Language Learners and ELL Navigator programs. The additional assistance funds will provide up to $800 per person for basic needs such as childcare, housing and utility assistance and transportation costs. In addition, funding assistance for equipment needed for teleworking along with digital services for Wi-Fi access may be available for workers in some areas.

“The immense impact of COVID-19 has put an incredible financial strain on the lives of many Californians,” said Hilliard. “It is our hope that this funding, along with other ongoing efforts, will help provide some relief to Californians who need it as quickly as possible.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.