Georgia jobless claims hold steady as pandemic recovery continues

About a dozen protesters spent a night in front of the Georgia Department of Labor building in downtown Atlanta last week, bitterly criticizing the decision to cut off federal pandemic benefits to about 167,000 jobless Georgians.  Left to right - Chad Greenidge, Satya Vatti and Nicole Fears.  The protest was organized by the New Georgia Project. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Caption
About a dozen protesters spent a night in front of the Georgia Department of Labor building in downtown Atlanta last week, bitterly criticizing the decision to cut off federal pandemic benefits to about 167,000 jobless Georgians. Left to right - Chad Greenidge, Satya Vatti and Nicole Fears. The protest was organized by the New Georgia Project. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

The Georgia Department of Labor processed 20,749 new claims for unemployment benefits last week, far below the stratospheric levels of a year ago but still almost four times the pre-pandemic average.

Since most were not new layoffs, but were refilings of claims, as required once a year by labor department rules, it is a sign of an economy haltingly moving toward health. Though a large number of Georgia workers are still jobless, many businesses are hiring and unemployment numbers should shrink, economists say.

“The economic demand is certainly there,” said Jay Denton, chief analyst at ThinkWhy, which uses its LaborIQ software to analyze employment data. “But it’s about people reengaging in the labor force.”

The number of unemployment benefits claims likely will continue to drop, partly because former gig workers and self-employed workers are no longer eligible. State officials stopped participating in a federal program that allowed Georgians who did that kind of work to collect jobless benefits. Roughly 167,000 people have seen their checks cut off.

More than 50,000 others are still receiving state benefits, but Kemp’s action eliminated a $300-a-week federal supplement they had been getting.

Moreover, the Department of Labor also has put in place tougher requirements for keeping unemployment benefits. Now, Georgians must submit proof each week that they are searching for a job, listing at least three employers they have contacted.

Unemployment payments, which typically tops out at $365 a week, are meant to be only temporary support, said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner. “The real support comes from the connection of job seekers with open positions.”

About 223,000 job openings are listed on the DOL’s jobs site, he said.

The DOL’s career centers have been closed since early in the pandemic, but the department says its services are available online.

For jobseekers who want in-person service, the Atlanta Regional Commission announced Thursday that its chain of job centers will reopen next week, although appointments will be needed. The ARC has centers in Cherokee, Clayton, Douglas, Fayette, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties.

Meanwhile:

  • Woodgrain is expanding its manufacturing operations in Lee County, adding 150 jobs.
  • Pregis, which makes packaging, will expand its Henry County factory and add about 80 jobs.
  • InFlex, a subsidiary of Amcor, said it will expand its Bacon County manufacturing facility and add 100 jobs in Alma.

While the state has added more than 400,000 jobs since last spring, the economy is still 185,400 jobs shy of its pre-pandemic level. Both Gov. Brian Kemp and Butler argue that hiring will accelerate as cuts in benefits push those who are unemployed to accept available work.

Many argue that unemployment benefits aren’t the only reason that some Georgians are staying on the sideline. Some are having trouble finding jobs commensurate with their work experience and past jobs. A lot of the current openings are low-income positions. In addition, some families have children at home — at last until schools reopen in-person in August.

Whatever the reasons, finding workers has been tough, said John Foshee, chief revenue officer of Atlanta-based Porter Logistics, which operates a large distribution center. The company has roughly doubled in size to 45 employees since last fall and plans to double again in coming months.

“It is very hard to find people now,” he said. “We can’t get anybody on the fulfillment line for less than $17 or $18 an hour now, and we used to pay $12 to $14.”

Georgia weekly jobless claims

Highest, pre-pandemic: 41,522

Highest, pandemic: 390,132

Average, pre-pandemic: 5,548

Last week 20,749

Source: Georgia Department of Labor

Georgia jobs

Compared to April 2020: +424,100

Compared to Feb. 2020: -185,400

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics