The number of jobless Georgians seeking unemployment benefits just surpassed 1 million as fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hammer the economy and put people out of work.
Another 243,000 workers filed claims during the week ending April 18. Combined, nearly 1.1 million Georgians have filed for unemployment in the last five weeks, according to new statistics released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Georgia’s unemployment rate ranks fourth in the nation at 13.6 percent.
That’s likely because a large part of the state’s economy is based on transportation, hospitality and restaurants, all of which were particularly hard-hit by consumers sheltering in place, said Georgia State University Economic Forecasting Center Director Rajeev Dhawan.
Nationwide, 4.4 million applied for unemployment benefits during the same week, bringing the five-week total to more than 26 million.
The rate of job losses is slowing, both nationwide and in Georgia. Georgia is fourth in the nation for largest decreases in initial claims with more than 70,000 fewer claims filed compared to the previous week. Across America, more than 800,000 fewer initial jobless claims were filed during the week ending April 18 than the previous week.
That’s likely because there are few workers left to lay off in vulnerable service jobs Dhawan said.
“You can only lay off the number of people that you have, you can’t lay off any more than that,” he said. “There’s been a big dip, now it seems to be settling.”
The dip spells good news in that layoffs appear not to be spreading as much to other industries, Dhawan said. But the economist warned that the number of jobless will continue to increase, especially as gig workers and independent contractors who were not previously eligible for benefits apply.
“The continuing claims did not rise that high, but the new claims were there, which means they’re still processing,” he said. “Starting April 15, they were saying people in the gig economy can apply, so that wave will come a little bit later.”
The latest gloomy jobless news comes on the eve of Gov. Brian Kemp’s aggressive plan to lift some business restrictions, announced at a Monday press conference. A limited number of businesses can reopen Friday that have been ordered closed, including gyms, bowling alleys and hair stylists. Dine-in restaurants, theaters and private clubs are allowed to reopen Monday. All businesses will be subject to new sanitation and social distancing guidelines.
The state’s subsequent economic recovery depends largely on whether business owners and workers are willing to reopen and whether Georgians are in the mood to get out and spend money, Dhawan said.
“It’s not going to be that easy. It’s not like turning on a switch, but a slow, gradual process,” he said.
Georgia is among the first states in the nation to reopen businesses during the pandemic and has drawn criticism from both Georgia Democrats and President Donald Trump.
Kemp called the plan a measured response based on sound science, a necessary step to help Georgians struggling without income. He also tried to tamp down expectations that the order will be a quick fix.
“I think parts of our economy, it’s going to continue to take a little while for our public to get comfortable with going back to a restaurant or going out to some of the more public-type venues,” he said at a dial-in public meeting Wednesday, before the president made his critical remarks. “I support trying to get that started in a methodical way, but also understand that this may take some easing into over the next month or two, but we want to allow that to get started.”