By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — New national numbers are out, showing first time claims for unemployment fell to 184,000 in the week ended Dec. 4, the lowest level since September of 1969, according to the Labor Department.

But California is bucking the trend.

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“This morning, we had 20 percent of the new unemployment claims in the country, while we only have about 11.7 percent of the
civilian labor force,” said Michael Bernick, an employment attorney and former head of the state Employment Development Department.

Bernick says several COVID-related factors are contributing to California’s outsized share of the nation’s unemployed.

“Lingering impacts of the very strict closures and the impact on our small business economy, as well as the heightened concerns of COVID and the variants, childcare and uncertainty about the schools,” Bernick said.

Big office buildings and corporate headquarters in downtown San Jose continue to sit mostly empty.

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With COVID posing a continuing health threat, companies have postponed return-to-office plans more than once. That’s created a ghost town effect on the streets and in the restaurants like 4th Street Pizza.

“It’s still having a profound effect on us,” Josh McGhie, co-owner of 4th Street Pizza. “I mean downtown San Jose used to be a bustling area. Now, there’s very few people out here.”

Fewer people back in the office means fewer people on the sidewalks buying food, shopping, or needing services. That’s translating to reduced hours for small businesses and their workers.

Add to that a segment of the California workforce that is very slow to return to work even when jobs are available.

“The young people, it seems like no one wants a job. It’s hard to hire people for sure,” McGhie said.

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It’s making it especially tough on small businesses, which McGhie said are still operating in survival mode.