State spent $90 million a day on unemployment benefits
California's Employment Development Department spent $22.9 billion on unemployment benefits in 2010, a record amount, the EDD said Thursday. The benefits, paid to 1.7 million Californians, average out to about $90 million each business day.
"The numbers are staggering and the need undeniable," said Pam Harris, chief deputy director of the EDD.
The state paid out $20.2 billion in unemployment benefits in 2009. That topped the previous record of $8 billion that the state paid out in 2008. Some of the increase can be attributed to the federal unemployment benefit extensions passed by Congress in 2008 and 2009.
Some more fun numbers: the state issued 41.2 million unemployment benefit checks in 2010, processed 7.7 million initial claims for unemployment insurance, and handled double the amount of claims processed by the second-highest state (Pennsylvania). It hired 1,000 people to slog through all those claims, and now employs 3,491, although customers have still reported having trouble getting through by phone.
The total claims processed in 2010 was a 19% increase from 2009 and more than two times the number of claims processed in 2008. California processed more than 16% of the nation's claims for regular unemployment insurance. The state's fund is about $10 billion in debt.
A report issued Wednesday by the National Employment Law Project and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities urges President Obama to fix what activists call "broken" unemployment insurance trust funds. It proposes raising the amount of a worker's wages subject to the federal unemployment insurance tax and rewarding states whose funds are not in debt, among other things.
-- Alana Semuels
Photo: A worker looks for a job at an Employment Development Department center. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times