Georgia job losses are still high, but job openings are climbing

Job openings abound, according to the Department of Labor. With white-collar jobs growing, the test of the economic rebound will be in service jobs: If customers come back to restaurants, if night life returns, if tourism rebounds.   Bloomberg photo by Saul Martinez
Job openings abound, according to the Department of Labor. With white-collar jobs growing, the test of the economic rebound will be in service jobs: If customers come back to restaurants, if night life returns, if tourism rebounds. Bloomberg photo by Saul Martinez

Credit: Bloomberg

Credit: Bloomberg

Weekly unemployment claims remain far above pre-pandemic levels

Layoffs are high, but the number of job openings has surged, setting the stage for strong hiring in Georgia, officials said Thursday.

Last week, the state processed 33,623 new claims for unemployment benefits, down 5,659 from the previous week, but roughly six times the pre-pandemic average, according to Mark Butler, the state’s commissioner of labor.

“The numbers are still substantially elevated,” Butler said. “The good news for those still unemployed after a year is there are a record number of job listings ... in many different markets across the entire state.”

About 226,000 jobs are posted on the state’s jobs site, according to Butler.

While many of the jobless receive extended benefits because of federal pandemic programs, the payments are not as generous as a year ago. They also are slated to end by fall, and fears of the virus are ebbing as vaccinations are widely distributed.

With massive federal spending in the pipeline and pent-up demand of people who have avoided public places for a year, the Georgia economy could see very strong growth this year, said Caroline Fohlin, professor of economics at Emory University.

“I think those (federal) packages set us up for a stronger-than-average recovery,” she said. “We are pretty diversified here and we have a wide range of industries.”

Among recent job announcements:

-- Feit Electric, which makes energy-efficient lights, will open a distribution center in McDonough, adding 120 jobs.

-- Hyundai Transys Georgia Seating System, a maker of automotive parts, will expand its factory in West Point, adding more than 150 jobs.

Hiring for tech jobs, which continued to grow during the pandemic, is expected to accelerate, according to a report this week from CompTIA, a non-profit association for the industry.

Georgia will add nearly 9,000 tech jobs, with most of the demand coming from finance and health care companies, the report said.

Yet the number of jobless claims continues to hover in a troubling range. Georgia’s weekly claims have not been above 40,000 since October, but they haven’t fallen below 20,000. The pre-pandemic average was below 6,000.

Even if hiring is picking up, the improvement is not even, said Karen Leone de Nie, vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Industries that depend on in-person transactions continue to lag in hiring, which has more than tripled the number of workers who have been out of work more than six months. Studies show that the longer a worker is unemployed, the more damage done to their finances and future career trajectory, she said.

“Typically, there are parts of the economy that don’t recover so rapidly,” she said. “How hard will it be to get back? We know how much of a setback that can be.”

The lion’s share of filings last week was by workers in food and accommodation, as it has been throughout the pandemic.

But manufacturing has accounted for many claims, including nearly 2,700 last week, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. That is partly because of some long-term layoffs, but also because factory schedules can be haphazard, leading to furloughs for workers who can file for unemployment benefits.

Nationally, about 741,000 workers filed first-time claims for jobless benefits last week, the second consecutive weekly increase, according to the U.S. Labor Department. In addition, 152,000 new claims were filed for the federal pandemic program that covers gig and contract workers who would not typically be eligible for benefits.

“The labor market is far from fully healed,” said Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo in an email. However, “there is little to suggest that the labor market recovery is once again stalling, let alone backsliding.”

Georgia, new jobless claims, average week

Nov: 20,681

Dec: 25,585

Jan: 31,928

Feb: 28,188

March: 28,436

Georgia, new jobless claims

Average, last four weeks: 30,599

Last week: 33,623

Sources: Employment and Training Administration, Georgia Department of Labor

Georgia, new jobless claims

Highest week pre-pandemic: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2009)

Highest week during pandemic: 390,132 (April 4, 202)

Average week, year before pandemic: 5,548

Sources: Employment and Training Administration, staff research

Sectors of workers filing for unemployment last week

Accommodation and food services: 12,202

Administrative and support services: 3,428

Manufacturing: 2,691

Health Care: 2,143

Retail Trade: 2,158

Source: Georgia Department of Labor

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