Jobless claims continue to fall from all-time April high

In terms of layoffs, it’s still pretty bad out there. But it seems to be getting better, ever so slowly, according to numbers released Thursday by the Georgia Department of Labor.

The number of new claims for unemployment benefits processed by the department fell, for the sixth consecutive week, from an all-time high in April.

Just over 51,000 new claims were processed for the week ending August 29.

That’s far below the tsunami levels of the early spring, but still higher than the worst week of jobless claims during the Great Recession. More than a half-million Georgians are currently receiving jobless benefits.

Though the Department of Labor struggled for months to deal with the flood of claims, it says more than 90% of those deemed valid are being paid.

Since mid-March, nearly 3.6 million claims have been processed in Georgia. About 1.2 million claims have been judged to be valid.

Most unemployed Georgians can expect to see — at least temporarily, while the money last — an extra $300 a week in benefits payments in mid-September, courtesy of the federal government.

Only those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic are eligible for the new payments, officials said.

Though the number of new claims is ebbing right now, plenty of people are still searching for work.

Sandra Eichelberger, who lives in Decatur, lost her job as a software engineer in March and has been looking for another since. She’s growing anxious.

“Things are very tight,” she said. “I am lucky to have savings, but my savings are dwindling.”

She couldn’t pay her mortgage in July and August, something her mortgage company has, thus, far tolerated. But, in days, another payment is due, she said. “Will I make it? Probably not.”

Anthony Morish, 55, who lives in Midland, near Columbus, was working part-time as a mentor in schools when he was laid off in March.

He was approved for unemployment benefits in June, but this week was still waiting to receive his first check.

“My family is in a dire situation,” he said. “I have called the office for months and emailed to no success. I try not to get frustrated, angry or worry, but it’s very difficult when you don’t have support.”

He’d like to go back to his school job.

Since April, Georgia has added back roughly 300,000 jobs – a stunning surge in normal times. But it’s still more than 225,000 fewer than before the pandemic. While the official unemployment rate has slid to 7.6%, that is still more than double the level of February – and it does not count many people who are no longer looking for work.

More than half the employees working in January in beauty, personal care, leisure and entertainment were not working at the end of August, said Ray Sandza, vice president of Homebase, a company that tracks business activity.

“It is clear, based on our data, that the economic activity of small businesses is stalling, which is certainly not good for the broader economy,” he said.

One in four restaurant and bar employees was not working, he said. For retail, the number is one in eight.

Construction had been roaring for years when it ran into the pandemic wall, said Steve Sandherr, chief executive of Associated General Contractors, a 27,000-member national group.

About 24% of construction companies in Georgia have cut staff, while 44% said their projects were taking longer, he said during an online teleconference.

The Department of Labor currently lists 148,000 jobs on its website.

Patrice Morris, a 38-year-old who lives in Macon, lost her job in customer service in February – just before the pandemic shut down much of the economy. For several months, she drained savings, scraping out enough for rent and to feed her children.

“Eventually, unemployment kicked in,” she said. “But, for a moment, I was sweating.”

This summer, she got a job working from home as a customer service agent. Though she’s competent and hardworking, she said, it’s also “the luck of the draw.”

New jobless claims, Georgia, week ending

July 18: 122,313

July 25: 84,984

August 1: 73,931

August 8: 62,335

August 15: 58,099

August 22: 56,768

August 29: 51,283

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration