For The Record

Georgia job losses ease, ranks of idled workers still at historic high

By: - June 4, 2020 10:38 am

Tamara King prepares to head outside with her children, Malachi, Josefina and Antonio. King, like many Georgians, is looking for unemployment benefits or a new job during the economic collapse caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Contributed by Tamara King.

This post was updated at 4:15 p.m. June 4 to include remarks from the labor department’s afternoon press conference.

Fewer Georgians filed new unemployment claims during the last full week in May than in recent weeks, but joblessness remains historically high as workers laid off during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic struggle to claim benefits or find new employment.

Labor department officials processed 148,000 claims as May ended, down from more than 165,000 the week before.

The Georgia Department of Labor has issued nearly $4.6 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits in the past 11 weeks as businesses shut down and the economy went into freefall.

Many Georgians are waiting for benefits they applied for many weeks ago but have yet to be approved or denied.

Tamara King of East Point received her layoff letter from her job at Sonesta Suites April 10. She got an email about two weeks later saying her claim had been processed, but since then, nothing.

She wants to work, but can’t find anyone to hire her. She said she has applied for more than 100 jobs in fields that are supposedly hiring, such as delivery driving and working in warehouses, but she has yet to receive an offer. Now she wonders how she’ll support her three children.

“It’s beyond frustration,” she said. “I’m too weak to be livid, and I can’t show my kids how much we are actually struggling. I’m not saying my kids don’t have a clue of what’s going on, but they are very aware that we can’t do what we used to, can’t go where we used to.”

She said she has been able to pay her rent and bills so far, but her savings are running out.

“From the way things are looking, July and August might be ugly if they don’t approve my claim and get me back to work,” she said.

Like thousands of others, King has taken to social media to vent her frustration and seek tips from those who have received payments.

Candice Thomason Elliott with her son, Reese Elliott. Candice Elliott was let go from her job at a pediatrician’s office during the COVID-19 pandemic and is waiting for unemployment insurance to help pay the bills. Contributed by Candice Thomason Elliott

On one popular Facebook group among Georgia’s disaffected unemployed, Candice Thomason Elliott of LaFayette recently posted a screenshot from her phone showing 83 missed calls to the unemployment office in one morning.

Elliott applied for unemployment April 29 after being let go from her job at a pediatrician’s office, and information about her benefits has been hard to come by.

She’s called her local office and the main state Department of Labor office well over 100 times, but she has yet to reach anyone.

“It’s very frustrating. I know that all of the employees at GDOL are overwhelmed, but something has to be done,” she said. “I have read and followed so many people on social media and there seems to be no definite process in place. It appears to be ‘luck of the draw’ if your call gets through to the right person at GDOL.”

Elliott counts herself lucky compared with others she has met on social media group pages – her family is getting by on her husband’s income. He works on gas lines in north Georgia and Tennessee. But, she said, one income can’t support a family of three forever.

“We have definitely cut back on all of our spending and as many bills as possible, but I am not sure how long we can continue to do so,” she said. “My husband and I were both essential employees up until I lost my job, so that helped. The stimulus helped, but that is only going to last so long.”

Some social media sites are spreading bad information that could lead to more delays for out of work Georgians trying to get help, said Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

Some people are using social media to share lists of labor department email addresses, and others are sending mass emails to every address they can find, Butler said. Labor department employees often find their inboxes swamped with emails as a result.

“If you work in appeals, and you’re spending three or four hours a day, going through your email box – and you don’t need to forward it because you can see there that it’s already been sent to the proper place – going through all those emails to find the work that you need to be doing, that’s a lot of time that’s being wasted,” Butler said during an online press conference Thursday afternoon.

Tutorials for traditional unemployment insurance and for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance introduced Thursday will mitigate some of those problems by answering common questions and making bureaucratic language easier to understand, Butler said.

“A lot of these things are confusing and are causing a lot of extra work, not only for the claimant, but also for folks at the Department of Labor right now,” he said. “Adding additional unnecessary work is not really what we need to be doing right now, and so we’re kind of taking the initiative to go back in and either clarifying or making some changes in some of the wording of some of these questions,” he said.

The declining number of Georgians filing for initial unemployment benefits reflects a nationwide downward trend. The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits also dropped to 1.8 million, down from 2.1 million the week before.

This is the first week since Georgia’s coronavirus cases spiked in mid-March that the number of initial claims has dropped below 2 million, but the number of jobless Americans remains staggeringly high. Only 216,000 Americans filed new unemployment claims during the last week of February.

And while the number of Georgians requesting their first unemployment check dropped, labor department numbers show more Georgians requesting continued payments. Nearly 751,000 Georgians filed for their second week of benefits or beyond during the week ending May 23, an increase of 20,000 from a week earlier.

The Georgia Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund that pays for state unemployment benefits carried a balance of just over $1.6 billion, down $944 million, or 37 percent, from its March 24 total.

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting.