California's Work Sharing program aiding workers with wages

Tough times are driving record demand for a little-known state program that pays partial unemployment benefits to workers whose hours and wages have been cut.

"There have been high periods, but nothing like this — every two or three weeks is a record. It's part of what's happening with the economy right now," said Talbott Smith, a division chief at the Employment Development Department, which runs the Work Sharing Unemployment Insurance program.

Participation in the program may have surged, but it still is utilized by only "a very small percentage" of the approximately 1 million employers in the state, Smith said.

The state of California, with its roughly 400,000 employees, does not participate in the program, so furloughed state workers are not eligible.

Work sharing was a first-in-the- nation safety net when state lawmakers created it in 1978. The intention was to spare workers from total unemployment during downturns and allow employers to avoid the cost of recruiting, hiring and training new employees when the economy improves.

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