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California's unemployed get better benefits

Claims filed for unemployment rose dramatically in California after the dot-com collapse. The good news? Starting next week the state is increasing the maximum amount paid.

There's a bit of good news for California's laid-off workers: Starting next week, the state will raise the ceiling on the amount of money it pays in unemployment benefits.

Beginning Jan. 6, 2002, claimants for unemployment benefits will be eligible to receive a maximum of $330 per week, a 44 percent increase over the current maximum of $230.

The increase does not, however, apply to claims filed before Jan. 6.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks through mid-December, about 830,000 claims for unemployment benefits were filed in California. The state does not track how many of those claims were from former technology workers, but the tech industry has been hard hit.

California hosted more tech jobs than any other state. According to the American Electronics Association, a high-tech trade association, California had 973,600 workers in 2000.

Conversely, when the Internet economy began collapsing in April 2000, no other state saw as many of its tech workers suddenly without jobs.

Since then, according to outplacement company Challenger Gray & Christmas, tech companies have whacked more than 140,000 jobs nationwide--with more than 100,000 tech jobs lost this year alone.

While workers in the San Francisco Bay area--the epicenter of the so-called dot-com revolution--pulled in some of the highest salaries, they also lived in one of the most expensive regions in the country. Studies have found the area's cost of living is twice that of the national average.

Many tech workers earned six-figure salaries, even as compensation in the sector waned during the past year. After getting "downsized," many of these workers discovered that their unemployment checks fell far short of meeting their bills.

Still, California has been among the most tightfisted states in the nation. Only South Dakota, Arizona, Alabama and Mississippi paid less benefits to its unemployed, Levy said. The benefit increase will place California within the 17 top-paying states.

The increase is the first in California in 10 years, but not the last. By 2005 maximum weekly benefits are expected to reach $450.

Help for people laid off in 2001?
California lawmakers were working to boost the state's unemployment benefits before the Internet meltdown began, said Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for California's Employment Development Department.

"Unfortunately, we got slammed by an economic slowdown before the bill could take affect," Levy said. "We're looking at what else we can do."

As for helping those who missed out on the increase, Levy said there is discussion among state lawmakers about recognizing some claims retroactively. But, she cautions, no definitive action has been taken.

"The state is trying to find ways to bridge the gap to raise benefits for people who lost their jobs in the past several months," she said. "I guess we'll have to wait and see."