With latest coronavirus surge, Georgia job market struggling

With so many people spending more time in their homes, the urge for comforting ambience has boosted the demand for scented candles. Here, Matt Mewbourne, owner of Rekindle Candle Co. in Monroe, pours candle wax, a mixture of soy wax and coconut oil that hardens overnight to produce a batch of candles.
With so many people spending more time in their homes, the urge for comforting ambience has boosted the demand for scented candles. Here, Matt Mewbourne, owner of Rekindle Candle Co. in Monroe, pours candle wax, a mixture of soy wax and coconut oil that hardens overnight to produce a batch of candles.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Georgia officials said Thursday that they processed more than 33,000 new jobless claims last week, a 70% jump from the prior week and a sign of trouble in the state’s economic recovery.

Last week’s claims number — the highest since October — reversed what had been a steady decline in layoffs, said the Georgia Department of Labor.

The newest wave of joblessness follows the rising tide of coronavirus cases, which has propelled hospitalizations and death counts to record highs nationally. In Georgia, more than 9,000 have died from the disease.

The surge is shaking consumer spending, sapping business confidence and undercutting economic growth, experts say.

“While initial claims have seesawed in the last two months, today’s report suggests claims are worsening rather than just stagnating,” economist Daniel Zhao of Glassdoor, a job-listing and research company, said in an email.

Fear of the disease keeps many people away from malls and stores and chillier temperatures make it harder for restaurants to make money by serving customers outdoors. That throws yet another obstacle at Georgia’s hospitality sector, which has been hit hardest by the pandemic.

“Job growth is slowing,” said economist Gus Faucher of PNC Financial Services. “It could also be that increased (virus) caseloads are leading to more layoffs, either permanent or temporary.”

At the beginning of the year, weekly jobless claims averaged 5,548. Since March 21, more than 4.1 million claims have been processed, an average of 111,091 per week.

The state’s worsening jobs situation paralleled the nation’s. About 1.38 million new jobless claims were filed in the U.S., including more than 400,000 from gig and self-employed workers applying for benefits created at the start of the pandemic.

That was up 276,000 from the previous week.

Yet in some sectors, hiring has been robust, according to Sasha Yablonovsky, president of CareerBuilder, an online job site.

Tech hiring in Atlanta is much stronger than the national average, partly because of the new-found focus on working remotely, she said. “Software, application developers, web developers, computer analysts. I think tech in Atlanta is being accelerated now that hiring is not tethered to a geographical location.”

For some companies, the pandemic turned out to be more boon than doom – especially those that exploit online shopping. Amazon, Walmart and other big retailers are expanding warehouses and transporting unprecedented amounts of goods, she said.

“The most in-demand jobs are truck drivers, especially heavy trucks and tractor-trailers,” said Yablonovsky.

Techies and truckers are the roles in greatest demand
Techies and truckers are the roles in greatest demand

Credit: CareerBuilder

Credit: CareerBuilder

Some small companies, too, have prospered.

Many moved their business online. Others found contactless ways to operate, said Michael Williams, senior vice president for small business at Bank of America. “Small business owners are, and always have been, resilient.”

Four-year-old Rekindle Candle Co. of Monroe feared for its survival when local farmers’ markets — a key source of sales for the small company — shut down in the early days of the pandemic, said Kailey Middlebrooks, who handles marketing.

“But the more people were at home, the more they wanted to make their house a comfortable space and sales went through the roof,” Middlebrooks said. “Now, some of the farmers’ markets are back and sales have been crazy.”

The company went from three employees to five.

But the state’s economy still has about 160,000 fewer jobs than it did in February and much of that loss was in leisure and hospitality. The sector has about 444,200 workers, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64,000 fewer than in February.

More than 7,000 of the new claims last week came from restaurants, bars and hotels, according to the Georgia Labor Department.

Jobs with most openings now in Atlanta

1. Heavy and Tractor-Trailer Truck Drivers

2. Software Developers, Applications

3. Registered Nurses

4. Marketing Managers

5. Sales Managers

6. Management Analysts

7. Computer Systems Engineers/Architects

8. Web Developers

9. Computer Systems Analysts

10. Network and Computer Systems Administrators

Source: CareerBuilder and Textkernel

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New jobless claims in 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

Nov. 21: 29,088

Nov. 28: 19,183

Dec. 5: 33,003

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

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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: 22,975

Total, since March 21: 4,122,503

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

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