Slow-motion recovery picks up: Georgia jobless claims fall

Layoffs are finally falling, according to the Department of Labor. The DOL offices have been closed to the public since early in the pandemic and claimants must file online. However the DOL has recently added an appointment option on its web site for people to schedule calls with staff. Here, a security guard stood watch outside the DOL earlier this year.
Layoffs are finally falling, according to the Department of Labor. The DOL offices have been closed to the public since early in the pandemic and claimants must file online. However the DOL has recently added an appointment option on its web site for people to schedule calls with staff. Here, a security guard stood watch outside the DOL earlier this year.

Credit: Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com

State’s unemployment rate also dropped in October

Georgia’s slow-motion economic recovery appears to have picked up some speed, as both the unemployment rate and the number new jobless claims fell.

The state added 25,000 jobs last month to cut the unemployment rate — which had soared into double digits in the spring — to 4.5% from 6.3% in September.

“The fact that we have so quickly reduced our unemployment rate to almost pre-pandemic levels demonstrates how strong our economy was prior to the crisis and how we are successfully recovering economically,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

The Georgia Department of Labor also said Thursday that 19,626 new claims were processed last week, the fifth consecutive week of decline. Last week’s jobless claims were less than half the levels of October.

Georgia is — at least for the moment — bucking the larger trend. Nationally, 1.1 million people applied for unemployment insurance benefits last week, including those applying under pandemic programs. That is an increase of 55,000 from the previous week.

“I think Georgia is in a much better position than the rest of the country,” said economist Jason Delaney of Georgia Gwinnett College. “It’s bad everywhere, but it’s less bad here.”

Deterioration in other parts of the country is tied to rising cases of coronavirus, he said. “Every economist out there will agree. If you want to fix the economy, you’ve got to fix the virus.”

More than 4 million jobless claims have been processed in the state since the crisis began in mid-March, nearly half of them judged to be valid.

The number of claims filed last week, while more than three times as high as the average pre-pandemic week, is dramatically lower than the stratospheric levels of the spring.

New claims are typically filed by workers who have just lost their jobs. While not all workers file claims and some workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits, the number of claims is considered a good indicator for the pace at which employers are letting workers go.

While there are more than 300,000 people officially unemployed in the state, that does not include people who have stopped looking for jobs — a group that typically grows when employment is hard to find.

The number of job openings has been climbing. Currently, there are about 160,000 jobs listed online at EmployGeorgia, according to the Department of Labor.

But relatively few listings are in the sectors that lost the most — those that rely on interpersonal contact, a sign that many customers are concerned about safety and still shying away from those situations, Delaney said. “What if you are a wedding planner? You can’t make people get married.”

New jobless claims, Georgia

week ending

Oct. 10: 54,166

Oct. 17: 44,892

Oct. 24: 43,695

Oct. 31: 37,253

Nov. 7: 23,827

Nov. 14: 19,626

Trajectory of new jobless claims, Georgia

Worst week, pre-pandemic: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2009)

Worst week, during pandemic: 390,132 (April 4, 2020)

Average week, Feb. 2019 to Feb. 2020: 5,548

Average, last four weeks: 31,100

Total, since March 21: 4,038,089

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

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