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California's High Unemployment Rate Signals More COVID-19-Related Hardships

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) -- For the second straight week, first-time jobless claims were down nationwide and in California. But the state's rate is still about five times higher than it was pre-pandemic with over 432,000 new claims.

Californians who have lost their jobs appear to be losing some hope of ever being called back to those positions.

"I can't work, and it's just frustrating," said Ruth Palfreeman, a San Jose massage therapist who's been laid off twice since the pandemic began.

When KPIX first met her last month, she was excited and getting to restart her job. But that reopening lasted just days and her massage tables have been empty ever since.

Now she's afraid the pandemic has claimed her job permanently.

"This is my second career and now it's looking like at age 61, I'm going to have to look for something else to do again, I can't massage."

"This is really the second wave of lockdowns," said Michael Bernick, an employment attorney and the former head of the State Employment Development Department.

He says this second wave of layoffs prompted by the re-closing of the economy is more punishing than the first. 

"What we're seeing is that companies who originally furloughed workers at the start of the pandemic are moving them to layoffs," Bernick said.

That's backed up by a California Policy lab survey that now shows just 61% of furloughed workers expect to be called back to their job. Back in March, that number was 80%.

"It's devastating to workers to not only be temporarily laid off but to lose those jobs permanently because the company went under," said Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who is sponsoring a bill requiring companies to hire back laid off employees once the economy does come back.

"I wish they would have just kept the economy closed, and kept things steady and not build up people's hopes. That part just gets very frustrating," Palfreeman said.

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