The jobless rate alone can’t capture the scale of economic crisis

At the same time that businesses shuttered and hospitals filled, millions of California workers lost their jobs. Many have spent much of their time ever since trying to get jobless benefits from the state Employment Development Department and its vendor Bank of America, sometimes making calls that went unanswered, only to finally exhaust all of their allotted benefits and left to hunker down through a brutal winter.

Now both claims and fraud reports are sky high and the situation is dire, even compared to the Great Recession. There are more people unemployed today, the state’s insurance fund is tens of billions of dollars in the red, and at least 2.5 million people were denied further financial assistance since March of 2020. Meanwhile, the state’s unemployment department has made millions from fees on debit cards it issued as jobless benefits. Help is on the way for some as the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act provides more money for unemployment insurance, though the exact amount will depend on the specifics of their case.