Apprentices sort through wire ropes called chokers at Iron Workers in Benicia on June 20, 2021. Photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters

(CALMATTERS) – California now accounts for a whopping 31% of the nation’s new unemployment claims, with more than 80,000 residents filing claims for the week ending Oct. 16, according to federal data released Thursday. That’s an increase of more than 17,500 claims from the week before and the state’s highest total in six months — which does not bode well for President Joe Biden’s goal of moving toward 24/7 operations at the clogged ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

 “The explanations previously given for California lagging behind the national economy are no longer convincing. California’s COVID rates are below other states, schools have reopened and child care is coming back. The small business economy in California remains decimated, limiting job openings. However, employers who do have job openings … report few applicants.”

Michael Bernick, a former director of the state Employment Development Department and an attorney at Duane Morris

On Monday, more than two months after it was originally scheduled, state lawmakers are set to hold a critical hearing on EDD’s progress on key reforms. EDD on Thursday announced customer service improvements, such as website upgrades and a new phone call policy. The agency’s backlog of unresolved jobless claims has also fallen dramatically in recent weeks, with around 139,000 stuck in the logjam for more than three weeks as of Oct. 9. However, EDD also noted Thursday that some claimants are waiting up to 26 weeks for an eligibility interview.