Unemployment in the city of Fresno more than doubled to 15.5% in April as the full force of COVID-19 business shutdowns took hold around the Valley and across the state.
Fresno’s unemployment rate exactly matched the statewide rate, while the Clovis unemployment rate to 13.0%.
Over 37,000 city of Fresno residents were out of work last month, according to data from the state Employment Development Department. The unemployment rate for Fresno County overall was higher, rising to 16.7% last month. That’s an increase from the county’s 10.8% jobless figure in March and the city’s 7.2% rate.
Still, the city of Fresno’s rate is lower than unemployment during the Great Recession. For example, the unemployment rate for November 2008 hit 18.6%.
Statewide unemployment rose to 15.5% overall in April, reflecting more than 5.1 million jobless claims that have been filed in California since March.
You can read the full Fresno County jobs report at this link.
Joblessness Spikes as Fresno Moves to Reopen Businesses
The new unemployment figures were released one day after all Fresno County communities were granted permission by the state to more widely reopen their economies. The approval allows all retail stores, dine-in restaurants, manufacturing facilities, and office-based businesses to resume operation under guidelines designed to reduce the chance of new coronavirus outbreaks.
“The numbers could be better,” said Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, “but I’m encouraged that our decision to reopen thousands of businesses and restaurants this week will get thousands of people back to work and speed up the restoration of Fresno’s economy so these numbers will become a distant memory in the near future.”
Since local and state shelter-in-place orders were put into effect on March 19, dozens of large local employers began laying off employees. Many other small businesses deemed “non-essential” under government guidelines were also required to temporarily close.
Some local retailers and restaurants have said they were unable to survive the effects of the pandemic and have permanently closed.
Local Unemployment Rates for April
Statewide Unemployment Almost Triples in April
California’s unemployment rate of 15.5% in April nearly tripled the previous month’s figure. As a result of shelter in place, the state lost more jobs in one month than it did during the Great Recession a decade ago.
“Businesses that have tried to hold on to workers are deciding that they can’t do so any longer, others are deciding that they can’t stay open with the uncertain future,” said Michael Bernick, former director of the state EDD and now a lawyer with the firm Duane Morris. “It is only when we have a confident, aggressive reopening in California that we can expect the job reconstruction to truly begin.”
Just two months ago, California was boasting an unprecedented economic expansion as it added more than 3.4 million jobs over 10 years, accounting for 15% of the nation’s job growth. More than two-thirds of those gains were wiped out in April as the state lost 2.3 million jobs.
California accounted for 11.4% of all jobs lost nationwide in April as the unemployment rate jumped 10.2 percentage points since March, the largest one month rise since 1976 when the state began using its current formula to measure job losses.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate reached 14.7% as all 50 states plus the District of Columbia reported increased job losses, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The California joblessness statistics released Friday only tell part of the story because the report is based on a survey conducted the week of April 12.
Jobless Workers Still Waiting for Benefits
In Fresno and other parts of the state, workers are now starting to return to jobs. Weekly unemployment claims have dropped from more than 1 million during the week of March 28 to just over 246,000 last week, according to Sung Won Sohn, a professor of finance and economics at Loyola Marymount University.
“There are some positives for the state. The early lockdown imposed in the Bay Area followed by Southern California has reduced infections and saved many jobs,” he said.
But the surge of claims has exhausted the state’s unemployment trust fund, forcing it to borrow billions of dollars from the federal government.
EDD Director Sharon Hilliard said the agency is preparing to hire an additional 1,800 people to handle the claims. But it would take a staff of 28,000 full-time employees working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week to answer all calls made to the department, she said.
Melanie Hern said she has not received any unemployment money even though she lost her job as a bartender over two months ago.
She has been calling EDD every day but is often put on hold or is hung up on. The agency last asked her to verify her identity five weeks ago, but Hern said she hasn’t heard back even after sending what was requested.
Hern said she borrowed money from relatives and that her boyfriend is paying most of her bills.
“I’m going into debt because I’m having to push back my bills as much as I can in hopes of getting unemployment,” she said.
Hern said she has resisted checking how much she owes: “It’s one of those things where I’ve stopped looking because it makes you kind of sick to your stomach.”
Even when people are approved for unemployment payments, they are often delayed by more than a month. Mia Foster said she had to wait five weeks to receive the money and was forced to ration food for her and her children during the wait.
“After a week or two you really, it does kind of take a toll on you mentally,” Foster said.
Delays Not Acceptable, Says Lawmaker
State lawmakers vented their constituents’ frustration to Hilliard during a public hearing on Thursday.
“I get that there is an unprecedented workload, but I believe government can do better and it has to do better at this time,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat from San Francisco. “We have never heard the type of suffering that people are experiencing right now.”
Hilliard said she agreed with Chiu that the delays are “not acceptable.”
“We are working hard to make sure we are addressing all of the concerns as quickly as possible,” she said.
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)