Georgia Unemployment Rate Rises As Economic Rebound Sputters

Georgia’s economic recovery from the pandemic sputtered in September, with the unemployment rate raising and employers adding few jobs.

The jobless rate rose to 6.4%, up from 5.7% in August. More people flooded back into the labor force, but fewer people reported having jobs. The slowdown means Georgia’s job market remains much weaker than before COVID-19 caused many businesses to lay off workers.

The number of unemployed Georgians rose from 282,000 in August to nearly 317,000 in September.

The nationwide unemployment rate in September was 7.9%, down from 8.4% in August.

A separate survey of employer payrolls — the top indicator for economists — had only slightly better news. Businesses hired an additional 5,000 people in September, boosting business employment to about 4.46 million people. Employer payrolls have recovered about two-thirds of what they lost earlier this year, but September’s numbers are still below the 4.63 million Georgians on payrolls in the same month last year. The rebound has been slowing, with September’s increase the smallest since figures began rebounding.

The seasonally adjusted figures were released Thursday by the state Department of Labor.

Last week, 53,000 Georgians filed new unemployment claims, up from 45,000 the week before. What had been a steady decline in jobless claims since April seems to have bottomed out in September, leaving claims at levels higher than the worst weeks during the Great Recession.

More than 410,000 people are collecting state unemployment checks. And the number of people collecting special federal unemployment assistance is rising, up to nearly 290,000. That’s because some people have exhausted the regular six months of state unemployment benefits and are shifting over to federal assistance. The federal money also covers people who aren’t eligible for regular state benefits, such as the self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers, or employees of churches and nonprofits.

Georgia collects unemployment taxes from businesses to fund its state benefits, but that piggy bank, which stood above $2.5 billion in March, has run dry. Georgia has already borrowed $600 million from the U.S. Treasury to keep paying state benefits. Gov. Brian Kemp announced this week he would bail out the fund using up to $1.5 billion in federal COVID-19 aid.