New jobless claims flooding in; some others to lose benefits

While layoffs continue in many sectors, grocery stores are adding workers. A new Nuts ‘n Berries hired about 24 workers as it opened this week in Decatur. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

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While layoffs continue in many sectors, grocery stores are adding workers. A new Nuts ‘n Berries hired about 24 workers as it opened this week in Decatur. (STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION)

A flood of jobless claims continued to pour into the state Department of Labor last week even as officials warned that some workers face a loss of benefits.

About 149,163 claims were processed – down slightly from the previous week, but still far more than during the worst month of the Great Recession. Since mid-March, the department has processed more than 2.3 million claims, found 928,1010 of them valid and issued at least a first payment to 715,000 people, according to Mark Butler, the state labor commissioner.

However, many non-teaching school employees who are not paid through the summer face an end to benefits. They are now without work because schools are closed, not because of the pandemic, Butler said during an online briefing with reporters.

Moreover, as restrictions on businesses lift, many workers will lose eligibility for benefits, he said.

More than 100,000 jobs are listed on EmployGeorgia.com, and many employers are calling workers back, according to Butler. Workers who are at heightened risk from COVID-19, or who are caring for someone at risk can continue to receive benefits, but others who say no may lose eligibility.

“Unemployment is not meant to be an income replacement forever,” he said.

That is shortsighted, argued Andrew Stettner, who has studied the unemployment system at The Century Foundation.

The claims numbers continue to signal a disaster, he said. “This is an indication that whatever reopening Georgia is doing, it has not resulted in a lot of hiring.”

Nationally, 1.9 million claims were processed last week, fewer than the previous week. Since the crisis began in mid-March, more than 42 million claims have been processed. The national jobs report for May will be released Friday.

The most robust hiring has been among grocery stores, distribution centers and delivery services.

In the past several weeks, calls for staffing have come from sectors like health care, financial services and retail, said Ryan Hansen, metro market manager for Robert Half International.

One economic bellwether is temporary staffing help, because in uncertain times, companies often use temp workers instead of hiring full-time workers, he said. Those hirings showed a modest pick-up.

“We are starting to see things stabilize in metro Atlanta,” Hansen said. “In fact, for some employers, the focus is shifting to re-entering the office while ensuring the health and safety of their employees.”

The sector with the most layoffs continues to be accommodation and food services. But second hardest-hit is health care, where many elective medical procedures have been postponed and many non-emergency services curtailed.

The Department of Labor, which has about half the staff it had during the Great Recession a dozen years ago, has added more than 175 workers, temps and retirees, Butler said.

However, he acknowledged that many thousands of unemployed Georgians – especially those who were laid off and filing for themselves — are still waiting weeks or even months for payments.

Among them is Andy Johnston of Acworth, who received only one payment several weeks ago.

"It's the first of the month, and we used much of our money to pay bills," said Johnston, owner of The Idea Group, which does communications for corporate events. "This payment was for this week's groceries."

There is no prospect of work for months, he said.

“We have four kids. We were already burning through saving when the payments started. Sure, we can go a few weeks without payments, but not too many. I’m astonished when the governor, members of the state House and Congress view unemployment as some sort of a gift.”


Jobless claims, March 21-May 30

Regular state claims processed: 2.3 million

Regular claims judged valid: 928,101

Federal pandemic claims processed: 162,333

Federal pandemic claims valid: 132,604

Source: Georgia Department of Labor

Initial jobless claims filed in Georgia, week ending —

March 21: 12,140

March 28: 133,820

April 4: 390,520

April 11: 319,581

April 18: 247,003

April 25: 266,565

May 2: 228,352

May 9: 242,772

May 16: 177,731

May 23: 165,499

May 30: 148,095

Source: Georgia Department of Labor