New Report: The 10 Key Trends from the Unemployment Crisis in California and Their Implications for Policy Reform

Sacramento, April 29th, 2021 – The California Policy Lab, a nonpartisan research institute at the University of California, released a new report today that synthesizes a year’s worth of analysis of unemployment claims in California during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is a snapshot of ten key trends from the unemployment crisis, based on 16 reports the research institute has released during the crisis, and suggests steps for how to translate this evidence into policy to reform the unemployment system.

“This unemployment crisis was uniquely harmful for the California workers who were least able to afford it,” explains Till von Wachter, co-author of the reports, UCLA economics professor, and faculty director at the California Policy Lab. “Our analysis highlights where federal programs made a big difference in supporting workers throughout this crisis, where reforms are urgently needed to make this system work better, and the challenges workers are still facing right now.”

The 10 key findings focus on:
1. The increasing importance of UI extension programs.
2. How the most vulnerable workers have been the most impacted in this crisis.
3. CPL’s improved measure of unemployment in California.
4. Why the UI system is inadequate to support low-wage workers over prolonged periods.
5. Recipiency rates have increased, yet access to UI benefits remains unequal in California.
6. The rising share of workers experiencing long-term unemployment.
7. The impact of Extended Benefits “turning off” prematurely in 33 states.
8. The high amount of additional claims suggesting “churn” in and out of the UI system.
9. The role of partial UI benefits in supporting workers on reduced schedules.
10. How a high percent of California workers expect to be recalled to their previous employers.

Based on this evidence, the research team proposed seven applications to policy:

1. Reform triggers for state Extended Benefits to factor in claimants relying on extended benefits.
2. Make Work Sharing programs more accessible to keep workers attached to their employers.
3. Raise the earnings disregard threshold for partial UI benefits to help workers whose hours have been reduced.
4. Modernize computing infrastructure throughout the UI system.
5. Support further research on the effectiveness of newly implemented UI programs and policies through academic-government partnerships and micro data access.
6. Harmonize and make more transparent state-level UI claims data reported at the federal level.
7. Increase partnerships between states’ Employment Departments and research organizations to analyze data on UI claims and earnings in real time.


The California Policy Lab creates data-driven insights for the public good. Our mission is to partner with California’s state and local governments to generate scientific evidence that solves California’s most urgent issues, including homelessness, poverty, criminal justice reform, and education inequality. We facilitate close working partnerships between policymakers and researchers at the University of California to help evaluate and improve public programs through empirical research and technical assistance.

The Labor Market Information Division (LMID) is the official source for California Labor Market Information. The LMID promotes California’s economic health by providing information to help people understand California’s economy and make informed labor market choices. We collect, analyze, and publish statistical data and reports on California’s labor force, industries, occupations, employment projections, wages and other important labor market and economic data.

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