GA jobless claims rise, COVID spikes blamed

New jobless claims rose again in Georgia last week, a sign that economic growth has been undercut by consumers’ and companies’ continued fears that the coronavirus is still out of control.

Data at the end of December can be volatile, since some workers may delay filing until after the holidays.

However, the upward trajectory is disturbing, since the nearly 37,000 initial claims processed was the highest since October and more than double the level of two weeks ago, according to the state Department of Labor.

Nationally, about 965,000 people applied for state unemployment benefits last week, and 284,000 applied for federal pandemic assistance. New claims were up about 25% from the previous week.

The wave of layoffs seems to be pegged to the virus, since the cuts are predominantly listed as temporary, according to U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia.

An effective rollout of the vaccines will turn the job market around, Scalia said in a statement. “Vaccine distribution should facilitate another surge in employment in two or three months.”

In Georgia, while some sectors have hemorrhaged jobs, like manufacturing, others are growing. Among this week’s gains:

  • ·Goodwill of North Georgia plans to add 55 jobs at a new store and career center at Metropolitan Parkway near I-20, according to spokeswoman Tenee Hawkins.
  • Correct Craft plans to add 90 jobs in Valdosta at a manufacturing facility that builds wakeboarding and wake surfing boats under its Supreme Boats brand, according the office of Gov. Brian Kemp.

However, there are still far more job seekers than openings.

More than 500,000 people are unemployed in Georgia, and more than 1.3 million — about 30% of the workforce — have received jobless benefits since the pandemic started, according to a survey by the Census Bureau.

In the week after Christmas, more than 25% of Georgia households were using savings to pay bills, and about 15% of households were borrowing from friends or family, according to the Census.

With the job market still sputtering, Congress passed and the president signed a relief bill in late December. The measure extended aid to many already receiving unemployment benefits, and payments to them continued without pause, according to the state Department of Labor.

However, about 239,000 Georgians had previously exhausted their eligibility, and while the relief package applied to them, making payments to them is more complicated.

The bill added 11 weeks of payments. But also modified benefits, especially for those whose income had come from multiple sources, so that workers who had both gig work and payroll jobs would be covered. It also added more identification requirements aimed at preventing fraud.

Many self-employed and gig workers have been included in the federal relief packages, even though they are not typically eligible for state unemployment benefits. However, they must still be vetted by the state.

Because of the changes, the state is waiting for the federal government to provide guidelines for how to make payments, said DOL spokeswoman Kersha Cartwright. “It’s not like we can just flip a switch and turn it back on.”

Officials hope to start payments within two or three weeks.

Marilyn Hatcher of Columbus is a self-employed salesperson who made a living selling military paraphernalia and jewelry at trade shows and business gatherings.

Those events have nearly vanished since the pandemic began, so Hatcher applied for pandemic benefits in April. She was rejected by state officials and appealed, but has not heard from the Labor Department for months.

“I spent most of my savings, used my credit cards to the limit,” she said. “And my mother and stepfather have helped. The stimulus checks have also been a blessing.”

She is the caregiver for her father, a veteran with serious health issues, she said. “I am behind on a couple bills, but I am coming closer to the point of financial exhaustion and slowly falling further behind. I am now at that borderline desperation point.”

Georgia, new weekly claims for jobless benefits*

Worst, pre-pandemic: 41,522

Highest, during pandemic: 390,132

Average week, pre-pandemic: 5,548

Average, last four weeks: 28,440

Total since Mar. 21: 4,259,963

*Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Education and Training Administration.

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Georgia, new weekly jobless claims*

Week ending

Dec. 5: 33,003

Dec. 12: 23,702

Dec 19: 26,673

Dec. 26: 18,960

Jan. 2: 31,458

Jan. 9: 36,667

*Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Education and Training Administration.

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Sectors with the most jobless claims last week*

Manufacturing: 8,582

Accommodation and food services: 6,682

Administrative and support services: 4,595

Healthcare and social assistance: 3,011

Retail trade: 2,206

*Source: Georgia Department of Labor

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