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California unemployment claims rise, Omicron looms over job market

California workers filed more unemployment claims last week compared with the prior week, an increase that starts 2022 in a disquieting fashion for the state’s battered job market

Workers statewide filed 50,900 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the week that ended on Jan. 1, an increase of about 2,100 from the approximately 48,800 claims that were filed in the week ending on Dec. 25, the U.S. Labor Department reported.

The increase in the most recent report snaps two straight weeks during which California workers filed fewer jobless claims.

Nationwide, workers filed 207,000 unemployment claims last week, an increase of 7,000 from the week before, the Labor Department reported. These national numbers were adjusted for seasonal variations.

California’s unemployment claims are at a level that is far worse than what would be typical for a healthy and fully functioning economy, this news organization’s analysis of the figures shows.

The most recently reported total of 50,900 unemployment claims statewide is far above what was reported during January 2020 and February 2020, the final two months before government officials ordered wide-ranging business shutdowns to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

During those two months in early 2020, unemployment claims averaged 44,800 a week. That means the latest claims totals in California are 14% higher than the early 2020 weekly average.

Even worse, it’s possible the job market could deteriorate depending on the effects of the outbreak of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, warned Michael Bernick, an employment attorney with law firm Duane Miller and a former director of the state Employment Development Department.
“The new claims do not show Omicron yet seriously disrupting payroll employment levels,” Bernick said.

But that could change over time, he warned.

“We’re likely to see a slowing of the pace of job gains in California from the pace that we saw in 2021,” Bernick said.

 

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