Jobless claims in Georgia sent soaring, worse on the way

US could become next epicenter of coronavirus, WHO warns

A tidal wave of layoffs has sent the number of claims for unemployment benefits soaring in Georgia — and a much larger wave is on the way, the state Department of Labor said Thursday.

Officials said that 12,140 Georgians filed for unemployment insurance in the week that ended Saturday — more than double the previous week's claims number — as businesses across the state closed or contracted in an effort to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

The pain in Georgia echoed that in the nation as a whole.

Earlier in the day, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that 3.28 million Americans had filed initial jobless claims last week, by far the most on record for one week. Previously, the largest number of claims was in 1982, when 695,000 Americans filed jobless claims.

»MORE: 3.3 million Americans file weekly jobless claims, obliterating previous record

"The results only confirm what we already knew — that the U.S. economy has been gravely sickened by the coronavirus," Beth Ann Bovino, the chief U.S. economist at S&P Global, wrote in an email.

MORE: A map of coronavirus cases in Georgia

MORE: Real-time stats and the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak

In Georgia, records of claims go back only to the mid-1980s. The worst single week for claims since then was in early 2009, when the economy was diving deep into recession and 41,522 Georgians filed for jobless claims. The Georgia unemployment rate rose rapidly and eventually crested at 10.6%.

But that recession was triggered by collapse of a housing bubble and a financial crisis in which credit virtually froze. This time, the downturn is being engineered to slow the spread of a contagious and sometimes deadly disease.

The 120% jump in Georgia claims was dwarfed by the national increase of more than 1,000%.

Officials said Georgia’s numbers were less dramatic partly because the state’s systems could not keep up: The state only counts claims that have been processed — and thousands of claims were filed but not fully dealt with right away.

"The number is not indicative of where we are," state Labor Department spokeswoman Kersha Cartwright said. Next week's report, she said, could show five times as many claims or more: "It's just a given."

Michael Wald, a former senior economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, said the smaller acceleration is also a reflection of Georgia being later in taking action to stymie the spread of the virus.

“As a result, the message to most workers and employers was ‘business-as-usual,’ ” he said. “Wait until next week’s numbers to see if Georgia’s jumps.”

As of late Thursday, Congress seemed set to approve a $2.2 trillion bill that would inject cash into the airline industry and other companies, as well as provide loans to a range of businesses. For the newly jobless, there would be a $600 boost to state jobless payments, while most Americans would receive checks.

The money targeted to individuals is not really economic stimulus, even if it is much-needed support, Wald said. “The payments will help to keep some people afloat financially, which is good,” he said, “but the payments will only weakly stimulate a faltering economy.”

What people do with the money depends on their attitude — and their circumstance — he said.

“If you are worried about your job and the economy, you save it,” Wald said. “If you have high levels of debt, you pay off debt. If you are broke, believe the virus is short-term or a hoax, you spend it.”

And lower-income people will spend it because they need every dollar for day-to-day expenses, he said.

Georgia officials also took action Thursday to soften the blow for those who lose their jobs.

As Congress struggled to finalize a massive crisis-propelled spending package, Georgia officials extended the length of time an individual can collect jobless benefits from 14 weeks to 26 weeks.

That move will mesh with some of the expected provisions in the huge federal package, said Alex Camardelle, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

The current congressional plan calls for extending the length of time jobless workers are eligible for benefits — adding 13 weeks to whatever length of time each state provides a jobless worker.

“That is going to go a real long way,” Camardelle said. “It’s not to say that it’s perfect, but it is going to make a huge difference. It goes a long way toward helping the workers who have an unknown period of unemployment ahead of them.”

In filings with the state Department of Labor, a number of companies have declared plans to cut jobs, at least temporarily.

Among them are manufacturers, as well as companies that serve the airline and hospitality industries.

Piolax in Cherokee County, which makes plastics and metal-fastening products for vehicles, this week said it is laying off 359 workers because the manufacturers that use its goods are shut down.

Among others:

  • Crestline Hotels & Resorts, cutting 126 jobs in DeKalb County and 113 in Atlanta, for a total of 239.
  • Airport Retail Management in Clayton County, laying off 196.
  • Punch Bowl Social in Fulton, eliminating 173 jobs.
  • Global Concessions of Atlanta, cutting 100 positions.
  • Pot Likker Creations of Atlanta, eliminating 100 jobs.
  • ACTS-Aviation Security of Atlanta announced cuts in April of 90 jobs.

But in an economy of 330 million people, even a time of social distancing, work stoppages and millions of layoffs is accompanied by hiring — mainly in the sectors that people need and can still use.

In metro Atlanta, hiring continues, especially at grocery stores, warehouses and delivery services.

For example, Lidl  — which has stores in Mableton, Marietta and Snellville — is hiring, for both temporary and permanent positions, a spokesman said.

Allied Universal, a security company, plans to hire at least 100 people in metro Atlanta, including guards, drivers, accounting help and software engineers, a spokeswoman said.

The state Labor Department continues to list openings on its website, including jobs with the U.S. Census Bureau; Foundation Food Group in Gainesville; Sam's Club in Marietta and Woodstock; Marietta schools; grocery stores in various locations, including Aldi, Ingles, Kroger, Publix and Winn Dixie; Pepsi; and FedEx and UPS in various locations.

The Georgia Department of Labor has added a portal to its web site for people who want to file for unemployment benefits:

The department’s main page:

Georgia jobless claims 

Third week of March 2020: 12,140

Third week of March 2019: 4,387

Third week of March 2018: 4,516

Third week of March 2017: 4,787

Third week of March 2016: 5,886

Most claims, third week in March: 20,172 (2009)

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Education and Training Administration

Weekly Georgia jobless claims since 2007

Highest: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2009)

Lowest: 3,119 (Nov. 25, 2017)

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Education and Training Administration