Jobless claims jump as economy looks for traction

Someday job interviews will again be done maskless and in person. Meantime, whether remotely, masked or otherwise, the hiring has been slow. (istock)
Someday job interviews will again be done maskless and in person. Meantime, whether remotely, masked or otherwise, the hiring has been slow. (istock)

New jobless claims in Georgia jumped 19% last week as the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic continues to sputter along.

The Department of Labor processed 32,386 claims for the seven days ending Feb. 6, nearly six times as many as it averaged pre-COVID times. Layoffs continue in hospitality, office services and manufacturing.

“Based on the recent trend, I think you could say the state’s labor market recovery hasn’t gained additional traction the past few weeks,” said Sarah House, senior economist for Wells Fargo. “Other data out this week point to a job market that is only muddling along.”

A true recovery will not come until the virus is contained, she said. But, as COVID cases are better managed, she expects “the current level of jobless claims to subside and for hiring to improve markedly this summer.”

Nationally, about 793,000 people applied last week for their state’s unemployment benefits. It’s the 47th consecutive week that those claims were greater than the worst week of the Great Recession, according to economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.

About 335,000 other claims were filed requesting federal pandemic assistance.

Despite the number of people filing for unemployment benefits, Georgia labor commissioner Mark Butler said other data is encouraging.

“Georgia is one of the leading states in the country in job creation,” he said. “We created 44,700 jobs in December.”

Still, while the Georgia economy has added jobs for eight consecutive months, the market has been uneven.

Hiring has been strong for some tech jobs and for the kind of warehouse and logistics work spurred by online shopping. But businesses that rely on in-person transactions have been hamstrung by the continued spread of COVID-19, which has kept many consumers at home.

And while Georgia’s unemployment rate is 5.6% — lower than the national average of 6.3% — those official rates understate the weakness of the labor market, said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell in a speech Wednesday.

The official rate does not count people who are not actively looking for a job. And he said many jobless people are not looking. Some have childcare responsibilities that keep them home. Some are discouraged about prospects. Some are counting on unemployment benefits to float them until risks of the pandemic subside.

The state’s labor force is about 200,000 workers smaller than it was a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In Georgia, the state’s job board lists about 183,000 openings. Roughly 400,000 people in the state are receiving some kind of unemployment benefits.

Since mid-March, the state has processed about 4.4 million claims, more than one-third of them judged to be valid. The Department of Labor also has found numerous cases of fraud.

About 1,500 people had contacted the department to say they received 1099-G tax forms assessing them for taxes due on unemployment benefits that they never applied for, according to the department.

Weekly jobless claims, Georgia

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

390,132: Highest, pandemic weekly jobless claims (April 4, 2020)

5,548: Average, pre-pandemic weekly jobless claims

29,314: Average, the last four weeks

26,111: Last week’s jobless claims

4.4 million: Total since Mar. 21

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New jobless claims, Georgia, week ending:

35,912: For week ending Jan. 16

28,016: For week ending Jan. 23

27,215: For week ending Jan. 30

32,386: For week ending Feb. 6

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

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