Georgia’s job growth bucks U.S. trend, but unemployment claims still high

The Georgia labor market has been moving in two different directions, with many white collar jobs growing even as layoffs continue in other industries. /Shutterstock

Credit: TNS

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The Georgia labor market has been moving in two different directions, with many white collar jobs growing even as layoffs continue in other industries. /Shutterstock

Credit: TNS

Georgia’s economy added 44,000 jobs last month and recorded the strongest hiring since June, officials said Thursday.

Even so, January has seen a surge in layoffs that’s led to more than 35,000 new applications for unemployment benefits for the week ending Jan. 16.

Many of the layoffs are coming in service industries like hotels and restaurants, while much of the hiring is for white-collar positions.

“Legal, tech, marketing, accounting and finance — that’s where we’ve experienced the biggest growth,” said Ryan Hansen, metro market manager for staffing company Robert Half. “We haven’t seen a turn in manufacturing or hospitality jobs, like hotels or restaurants.”

Georgia’s numbers have paralleled the nation’s since the pandemic began. But, while Georgia was adding jobs last month, the U.S. shed 140,000.

The national picture is troubling, said Sarah House, senior economist at Wells Fargo via email. “Another decline in payrolls in January remains within the realm of possibility.”

In Georgia, the unemployment rate edged down from 5.7% in November to 5.6% in December. The economy is still 93,200 jobs shy of the pre-pandemic level, but has grown for eight consecutive months, said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

“We more than doubled our job growth from November, which is very promising, considering how challenging of a year this has been,” he said.

Still, there were 35,912 new jobless claims processed last week, roughly six times the pre-pandemic average, according to the Department of Labor.

The rollout of vaccines offers hopes of a return to normal, but significant improvement is months away, Atlanta Fed president Raphael Bostic told Atlanta Rotary Club members recently.

“At heart, this is a public health crisis,” he said. “And where we are right now, I think we are at a crossroads.”

Congress passed a COVID relief package late last month, which extended unemployment benefits for many. But thousands of Georgians must await labor department software modifications before the payments come through.

Those fixes should be done and payments flowing within two weeks, officials said.

Dean Ford, an Army veteran, was laid off from his tech job in November and is anxiously awaiting a review of his application for jobless benefits. He didn’t have much in the way of savings and has burned through a lot of it. He said he is two months behind on his mortgage and is eating a lot of rice.

“I have family and friends, but everybody is sort of in the same boat,” he said. “I can probably go a few more weeks. Then, I don’t know.”

Angell Kelsey, too, lost her job in November. The Jonesboro woman said she’s hoping that federal stimulus money will tide her over until she finds another position.

Kelsey has updated her resume and posted it on job boards online. “I’m on the computer all day long, putting myself out there,” she said.

Change in the number of jobs, Dec. 2019-Dec. 2020

United States: -6.2%

Georgia: -1.8%


Number of jobs since start of pandemic

United States: -9.8 million

Georgia: -93,200

Source: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics


Weekly jobless claims, Georgia

Worst, pre-pandemic: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2010)

Highest, pandemic: 390,132 (April 4, 2020)

Average, pre-pandemic: 5,548

Average, last four weeks: 30,842

Last week: 35,912

Total since March 21: 4.3 million

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration


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