Millions of California workers turned to unemployment insurance benefits over the last 18 months after suddenly losing their jobs – a reality that can hit workers, families, and communities, pandemic or not. In trying times, everyone should have the opportunity to buy food, pay rent, and care for their families as they look for new, stable employment. State and federal unemployment insurance benefits are the lifeline that help families keep their homes and put food on the table.
The health and economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis are severe – and Californians with low incomes are especially hard hit. Changes to jobs, schools, child care settings, and services are particularly disruptive to the millions of Californians who were locked out of the state's prosperity well before the pandemic hit. How should federal and state policymakers respond to ensure Californians who can least afford economic hardship and health setbacks receive the support they need now?
The Budget Center believes that even in times of crisis, California can lead with strategic and targeted policies that achieve the greatest impact for our children, families, individuals, and workers, especially for those locked out of most public supports . We must remember the health of our economy and communities is only as strong as the support we extend to every Californian.
Unemployment among Californians has stalled around 10% for six months. In July 2021, 9.5% of Californians in the labor force wanted to work but had yet to find a job, only slightly down from 10.4% in February 2021. This is based on a more accurate measure than the “official” unemployment rate, which has understated the jobs crisis during the pandemic.
Unemployment for Black Californians remains extremely high. Between May and July 2021, 17.3% of Black workers were unemployed – twice the rate for white workers and well above the still-high rates for Asian and Latinx workers. This is based on a more accurate count of people who want to work, but have yet to find a job.
Governor Gavin Newsom released the May Revision to his proposed 2021–22 state budget — also known as his “California Comeback Plan” — and much attention is being given to the number of proposals and large dollar amounts. The governor’s latest proposal and the economic position California finds itself in today are striking given the global pandemic and recession.
California’s state leaders have more than $100 billion in funds available to be invested over the current budget, and future years.
With COVID-19 cases plummeting and vaccine distribution expanding, businesses are picking up hiring. This is bringing hope that California has turned the corner on the pandemic and is setting a path forward for an economic recovery to finally take hold. But as the state begins to emerge from the recession, lawmakers must keep in mind that their policy choices will determine whether the recovery is inclusive of all people and builds toward an economy that works for everyone.