Calif. has fifth highest unemployment

SACRAMENTO Unemployment offices throughout the state are busier these days. Someone out of work is sitting at practically every computer out there, combing through job listings -- or using the customer service phones to inquire about their jobless benefits.

The unemployment rate soared to 6.8 percent last month. It was 6.2 percent the previous month and only 5.3 percent a year ago. California now has the fifth highest unemployment rate in the nation.

"They're surprising to all of us. They're unusually large. We haven't seen a one-month spike like this since our official series began in 1976," said Loree Levy form the California Employment Development Department.

The housing bust continues to dog the state's economy. The construction sector accounted for the most job cuts in the last year, shedding nearly 90,000 jobs.

Financial Services is not far behind.

"A maximum claim is 26 weeks. We have seen a significant increase over the last year in the number of people exhausting their benefits and still haven't found a job," said Loree.

"I've been looking for the last six months," said Francisco Mondragon.

Mondragon is a former mortgage worker, and her unemployment benefits are about to run out. The new numbers tell him he's got more competition for jobs.

"It means that prospects are pretty slim, because a lot of people are in the same boat I am," said Mondragon.

Many workers are feeling desperate enough to look outside their field.

"I go days without gas," said Marshall Garvatt, who is unemployed. "How am I supposed to look for work without gas? I can do virtually any kind of work. I don't care if it's heavy-lifting work. I'll dig a ditch if I have to dig a ditch to make some money."

There is some good news for those who've already exhausted their unemployment benefits. Congress is on track to extending those checks another 13 weeks. It could head to President Bush's desk as early as next week


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