What's happening with coronavirus layoffs in California?

A man talks on the phone with a serious expression on his face with his computer on the table in front of him.

California layoffs in the hardest-hit sectors, reports the California Budget and Policy Center, include:

  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Retail (excluding pharmacies and groceries)
  • Transportation and warehousing
  • Personal care services
  • Child care services

Many of the top California cities for COVID-19 unemployment are bracing for another wave of layoffs in an unexpected sector: health care workers. While the demand for employees trained in emergency care, ICU care and respiratory infections is high, hospitals and clinics and other health centers have had to close because they perform elective procedures. Hospitals are shouldering huge costs treating COVID-19 patients while being unable to perform their regular procedures.

State and local governments in California are already furloughing and laying off employees as their budgets are cut. This is because, unlike the federal government, states are required to balance their budgets every year. If less money comes in, they have to apply for relief to the federal government or cut costs.

Here are the top 10 California cities stunned by COVID-19 layoffs.

10. Chico

Bidwell Park in Chico, California

  • Projected unemployment: 28,300
  • Projected unemployment rate: 28.74%

The home of Chico State University had just 8,601 unemployment claims before the pandemic. But MoneyGeek analysts anticipate claims to hit 28,300 — over a 300% increase. And Chico already had a high poverty rate before the outbreak. The extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits from the CARES Act will be needed here.

The most vulnerable sectors in Chico include:

  • Education and health services
  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Local government
  • Retail trade
  • Leisure and hospitality

Chico is in distress, but its working population comprises just 1% of California employees.

Chico residents have a median annual income of $47,359. Although it's a college town, only 37.4% of adults have four-year or higher degrees, and the poverty rate is a high 24.7%.

9. Salinas

Agriculture in the Central Valley, Salinas, California.

  • Projected unemployment: 66,300
  • Projected unemployment rate: 30.56%

Salinas households enjoy a decent median income in normal times. But for its size, it had a high number of unemployed before COVID — 28,350. And MoneyGeek projects that this will more than double because of the pandemic.

The Salinas metropolitan area sectors most susceptible to COVID-19 layoffs include:

  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Education and health services
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Government

Salinas' proportion of California employees is only 1%. The town has been struck by unemployment but has not damaged the overall state's economy too much.

The City of Salinas has a median household income of $58,598. About half of its adults have not completed high school, and just 13.3% have bachelor or higher degrees. Its poverty level is 17.2%.

8. Santa Maria-Santa Barbara Metropolitan Area

The Santa Barbara Courthouse in Santa, Barbara, California is an example of early California mission-style architecture.

  • Projected unemployment: 65,800
  • Projected unemployment rate: 30.57%

This relatively affluent area had only 11,788 unemployment claims before the coronavirus pandemic. MoneyGeek expects that to balloon by 558%.

The most vulnerable sectors in the Santa Maria-Santa Barbara area include:

  • Education and health Services
  • Health care and social assistance
  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Accommodation and food services

This metro area counts just 1% of California's workers among its residents.

The combined Santa Maria-Santa Barbara metro area has a median household income of $77,472 per year, 12.5% of the population lives below the poverty line and 34.8% of adults have achieved a bachelor's or higher degree.

7. Redding

Sundial Bridge in Redding, California.

  • Projected unemployment: 22,600
  • Projected unemployment rate: 30.85%

Redding is a smaller city. Pre-coronavirus Redding had just 7,662 unemployment claims. But MoneyGeek expects the city to be hit hard — nearly tripling its out-of-work adults due to COVID-19.

Redding industries most vulnerable to coronavirus layoffs include:

  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Retail trade
  • Education and health services
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Government

Redding's percentage of California workers is 0.4%. Its citizens are feeling the pinch of the coronavirus in their unemployment situation, but Redding’s unemployment woes won't crash California's economy.

The City of Redding has a median annual household income of $50,579, a poverty level of 17.9% and 26.2% of its adults have a bachelor's degree or higher.

6. Fresno

A wooden and stone sign reads 'Welcome to the City of Fresno, California.'

  • Projected unemployment: 142,700
  • Projected unemployment rate: 31.42%

Prior to the coronavirus public health crisis, Fresno had 57,143 unemployment claims. MoneyGeek anticipates that this figure will increase by 250% because of the pandemic. Fresno also had challenges before the COVID-19 crisis — a higher poverty rate and a lower college-education rate. Fresno citizens who’ve lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus will appreciate the CARES Act $600 per week boost to their unemployment benefits.

The city of Fresno's weakest sectors include:

  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Retail trade
  • Farming
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Manufacturing

Fresno's unemployment impact is modest to the state because only 2% of California's workers reside there.

The median annual household income in Fresno is $47,189. Its poverty level is high at 26.9%, while 21.6% of adults have at least a four-year degree.

5. San Diego-Carlsbad Metropolitan Area

A sailboat is seen in the water with the San Diego downtown area in the background during the day.

  • Projected unemployment: 497,400
  • Projected unemployment rate: 31.19%

San Diego's unemployment picture may make it a little less sunny for many. Claims are expected to rise from a pre-COVID level of 82,288 to 497,400, according to MoneyGeek’s projections.

These industries are among the most likely to suffer employment losses in the San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad area:

  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Retail trade
  • Manufacturing
  • Durable goods
  • Construction

The San Diego-Carlsbad metro covers a lot of square miles but is home to only 6% of the state's employees.

San Diego-Carlsbad enjoys a median annual household income of $79,079 and a modest poverty rate of 11.4%. And 38.4% of its adults have earned at least a bachelor's degree.

4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim Metropolitan Area

Downtown Los Angeles, California at sunset.

  • Projected unemployment: 2.156 million
  • Projected unemployment rate: 31.50%

The Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim area encompasses parts of two counties. It's vast in geography and population, with over 13 million people calling it home. Before the COVID-19 crisis, this massive and diverse area had 442,752 unemployment claims. MoneyGeek expects that the post-corona toll will be 2,156,600, a 487% increase.

The most impacted industries in the LA-Long Beach-Anaheim metro area include:

  • Education
  • Health care and social assistance
  • Government
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Accommodation and food services

This combined metro's employment impact is sizable. It comprises 35% of the state's workforce. The city is trying to come back faster by providing free COVID-19 testing to all of its residents.

The combined Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim metropolitan statistical area has a median annual household income of $72,563, a 13.3% poverty rate and 34.6% of adults possessing at least a bachelor's degree.

3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara Metropolitan Area

An aerial view of Silicon Valley, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara Metropolitan Area

  • Projected unemployment: 371,000
  • Projected unemployment rate: 34.06%

In the tech hub of California, many people can work from home, and incomes are healthy. But that doesn't prevent layoffs if business is poor. This area had 81,188 pre-coronavirus unemployment claims, but MoneyGeek predicts that COVID-19 layoffs will cause claims to hit 371,000 — a 457% increase.

The most vulnerable industries in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metro area include:

  • Education and health services
  • Manufacturing
  • Health care and social assistance
  • Trade, transportation and utilities
  • Leisure and hospitality

The economy of this area is large, but it employs only 6% of California workers.

The combined San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metropolitan area is the most affluent on this list. The median annual household income is $124,696. Poverty is a low 7.2%, and 52.9% of adults have a bachelor's degree or higher. Some displaced workers in this area may have the resources to ride out a short stint of joblessness.

2. El Centro Metropolitan Area


Train tracks near El Centro and Brawley, California.

  • Projected unemployment: 26,600
  • Projected unemployment rate: 37.18%

El Centro's pre-COVID-19 unemployment claims were already high for its population at 13,156. MoneyGeek expects the COVID-19 crisis to double the unemployed ranks in this already-disadvantaged area. This is another area that will be helped by the additional CARES Act $600 weekly payments to unemployed residents.

The El Centro area industries most vulnerable to COVID-19 layoffs include:

  • Transportation, warehousing and utilities
  • Retail trade
  • Manufacturing
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Other services

El Centro's economy has taken a beating. Its overall impact on the state, however, is low because its workforce comprises only .4% of California employees.

The El Centro metropolitan statistical area has a median household income of $46,457. A high 24.6% live in poverty and just 17.1% have a bachelor's degree or higher.

1. Napa Metropolitan Area

A wooden sign reads, 'Welcome to this world famous wine growing region Napa Valley,' in Napa Valley, California.

  • Projected unemployment: 28,100
  • Projected unemployment rate: 38.31%

Napa's pre-COVID unemployment claims were very low at 3,923. It's a relatively prosperous community in normal times. But MoneyGeek projects its unemployed population to skyrocket by over 716% because of coronavirus.

The Napa metropolitan area industries most vulnerable to COVID-19 layoffs include:

  • Nondurable goods
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Manufacturing
  • Leisure and hospitality
  • Trade, warehousing, transportation and utilities

Napa's percentage of California's employees is only 0.4%. So while there is local pain, it won’t pull the state down on its own.

The Napa metropolitan statistical area has a median household income of $60,293. The poverty level is 11.8%, and 31.5% of residents have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Finding help for unemployment in California


An empty Los Angeles, California freeway during the 2020 coronavirus public health crisis.

California's Employment Development Department (EDD) has resources for both employees and self-employed to file for either unemployment benefits or pandemic benefits for self-employed.

This is the latest news from the California EDD:

  • California has started paying the additional CARES Act $600 unemployment benefit on top of the weekly benefit amount. The $600 in additional payments begins with the week ending April 4 and will continue to those who remain eligible through the week ending July 31, 2020.
  • Californians who qualify for unemployment benefits don't need to do anything beyond filling out the regular claim form online to receive this extra funding. The EDD is automatically adding $600 to each week's benefits that are paid every two weeks.
  • This means that if someone is receiving the average unemployment payment of $340 a week, the usual two-week payment would be $680. Adding the $600 CARES Act amount would increase the biweekly payment to $1,880.
  • People receiving California unemployment benefits can get paid through a debit card. Over 39.5 million people currently live in California, and it’s a monumental task to ensure all the citizens of the state who qualify for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus job-loss surge receive the money due them. To set up an account and file for unemployment benefits online, start with the UIOnline instructions. Additionally, the state has launched a new call center operation to assist customers seven days a week at 1-833-978-2511.

The state of California is working diligently to ensure that its citizens are able to receive information on their unemployment claims in a reasonable amount of time. If you are among the unemployed in California right now, remember that persistence and diligence will pay off now and in the future, when Californians go back to work.

Gina Pogol is a writer for MoneyGeek.

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