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Jobless claims drop, still high as Congress debates benefits

Job seekers wait for an interview during an Amazon jobs fair. The e-commerce behemoth is one of the employers that has been adding through the pandemic.
Job seekers wait for an interview during an Amazon jobs fair. The e-commerce behemoth is one of the employers that has been adding through the pandemic.

Credit: Mark Makela

Credit: Mark Makela

Georgia just processed 84,984 new jobless claims, as the state’s weekly tally slid below 100,000 for the first time since March, labor department officials said Thursday.

The filings for the week ending July 25 dropped 31% from the previous week, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, which has now processed 3.3 million claims and paid more than $11 billion in benefits since the pandemic was declared.

During the first week of April, 390,000 claims were processed in Georgia – the crest of the wave, representing about one of every 12 employees in the state. Since then, claims have continued at historic levels, but have been slowly declining.

Atlanta-based Economist Michael Wald said fewer claims are a sign of businesses reopening, rehiring workers or expanding as sales improves.

One company that is hiring is Atlanta-based AmeriSave, a mortgage lender with 2,000 employees nationwide. The company plans to double its 333-employee Atlanta contingent by year’s end, according to a spokeswoman.

Among the positions being filled, she said, are loan officers, underwriters, loan processors and customer service jobs for offices in Buckhead and Alpharetta. That’s a sign that the housing market in Atlanta is still strong.

But, in large swaths of the economy, the continued spread of the coronavirus is chilling consumer spending, Wald said. “The bad news is that, even with the reopenings, you still have over 600,000 people in Georgia receiving unemployment benefits. That is more than the populations of Augusta, Columbus, Savannah and Albany combined.”

Meanwhile, those who lost work because of the pandemic are no longer receiving an extra $600 a week from the federal government. A bitterly divided Congress has thus far been unable to reach a compromise on a new aid package.

Other data shows the economy’s reopening as far from complete.

In late July, Georgians were working 21% fewer hours than they were in late February, while in Metro Atlanta, hours worked were down 26%, said Andrew Vogeley, product manager at Homebase, which sells a scheduling and time tracking tool.

Things looked better a month ago, he said.

In mid-June, more people were working more hours, Vogeley said. “Both Georgia and Atlanta are down from mid-June peaks. Atlanta had been outpacing the rest of the country, but now is lagging it.”

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor reported 1.4 million initial jobless claims filed, an increase of 12,000 from the previous week.

Swamped by the unprecedented flood of claims, Georgia’s Department of Labor fell far behind. Many who are unemployed have waited months for their benefits to be paid. But, after slow improvement, the state has now made payments to 92% of the claims deemed valid, said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

The state Department of Labor has struggled for months with an unprecedented wave of layoffs plus he need to implement new federal programs. Mark Butler, Georgia's labor commissioner, says the latest proposals to unemployment benefits will make a tough situation even tougher.
The state Department of Labor has struggled for months with an unprecedented wave of layoffs plus he need to implement new federal programs. Mark Butler, Georgia's labor commissioner, says the latest proposals to unemployment benefits will make a tough situation even tougher.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

With the unprecedented level of unemployment claims, money for paying the benefit is running low. The balance in the state’s unemployment insurance fund is now less than 25% of the $2.5 billion it held as the crisis began.

Should that fund be depleted, Georgia would need to borrow from the U.S. Treasury to make payments.

Many of the claims have come from those who lost jobs in hotels, food services, health care and social assistance, retail, administrative services and manufacturing, the Department of Labor said.

Many of those jobs were lower-paid.

According to the Census Bureau, more than 50% of adults who make $75,000 or less annually have lost income during the pandemic. For those whose pay was $25,000 or less, at least 60% have lost income.

“This recession is having a horrible impact on people who are the least capable of coping with that impact,” said Mike Alexander, director of the Center for Livable Communities at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

New jobless claims in Georgia

Week ending

June 6: 135,254

June 13: 131,997

June 20: 125,725

June 27: 117,485

July 4: 105,160

July 11: 138,452

July 18: 122,313

July 25: 84,984

Sources: U.S. Employment and Training Administration, Georgia Department of Labor