Job crisis lingers in region as end looms for federal unemployment boost

Published: Jul. 9, 2020 at 10:10 AM EDT
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Unemployment claims continue to come in at a historically high pace in our region and the nation, with Georgia during the short July Fourth holiday week shelling out triple the jobless benefits it paid in all of last year.

To make matters worse, the federal boost to state unemployment benefits will end July 25, which could create an issue for the scores of people relying on the money.

Here’s a look at the situation in the region and the nation:

In Georgia

The Georgia Department of Labor paid more than $857 million in regular state and federal unemployment benefit payments during the week preceding Independence Day, bringing Georgia’s total payments in excess of $8.5 billion since the middle of March.

More than 91% of the 1.2 million claimants requesting a payment have received benefits, according to the agency.

Payments last week totaled $148,071,716 in regular weekly state unemployment benefits. Since March 21, more than $2 billion has been paid in regular state unemployment benefits.

“We are paying more Georgians more benefits than we ever have before,” Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. “No one would have imagined in the same year we experienced our lowest monthly number of claims since 1975 that we would pay almost three years’ worth of benefits in one week.”

Weekly regular unemployment initial claims totaled 105,160, down 12,325 over the week ending July 4. Of the weekly total, 57,404 (55%) were employer-filed claims. Initial claims have been trending down for the last 10 weeks. Over the past 16 weeks, 2,948,376 regular unemployment initial claims have been processed, more than the past seven years combined (2.7 million).

In South Carolina

More than 650,000 South Carolinians have filed their first claim for unemployment benefits since mid-March when the coronavirus pandemic began affecting jobs in the Palmetto State.

The latest numbers, released Thursday morning from the South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce, show that 16,062 people filed their first claims in the week ending Saturday, a decrease of 897 from the previous week, department spokesperson Heather Biance said.

But the total has steadily grown over the past 16 weeks and now totals 651,750.

The state has paid more than $2.9 billion in a combination of state unemployment insurance benefits and federal benefits.

This is happening as the end looms for the temporary federal boost to state unemployment benefits.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation roughly triples the amount of money South Carolinians can bring home in unemployment benefits. The federal relief program adds an additional $600 to whatever you qualify for through state, which can be anywhere from $42 to $326.

On July 25, that extra $600 is expected to go away. For some, that kind of money encourages people to stay unemployed, but for others it is the only way they are getting by during the pandemic.

Several business owners say the extra money from the federal government has made it more lucrative for their employees to stay unemployed. The issue is so bad they cannot find enough employees to staff the businesses. Once that money goes away on July 25, they believe more people will get off unemployment and look for work once again.

That means there could be fewer cases to handle at the State Department of Employment and Workforce. Jamie Suber is the chief of staff at the department and says his team is focused on figuring out how to help people find a job.

“Whether that be training, resume preparation or assistance with case management in regard to looking for work . . . we have had to get creative to come up with new solutions on how to serve individuals differently,” Suber said, referring to the need to be able to work cases virtually.

The department took on hundreds of new staff members to help process unemployment claims, and Stuber says he does not expect to start downsizing anytime soon.

“We just cannot predict the workload. We don’t know when new claims or new industries will be coming into the unemployment program,” Suber said. “I don’t think we are at the point now where we can say we can start staffing down because the number are extremely high.”

Across the country

More than 1.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, a historically high pace that shows that many employers are still laying people off in the face of a resurgent coronavirus.

The persistently elevated level of layoffs are occurring as a spike in virus cases has forced six states to reverse their move to reopen businesses. Those six — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Texas — make up one-third of the U.S. economy. Fifteen other states have suspended their re-openings. Collectively, the pullback has stalled a tentative recovery in the job market and is likely triggering additional layoffs.

Thursday’s report from the Labor Department showed that the number of applications for unemployment aid fell from 1.4 million in the previous week. The figure has now topped 1 million for 16 straight weeks. Before the pandemic, the record high for weekly unemployment applications was fewer than 700,000.

The total number of people who are receiving jobless benefits dropped 700,000 to 18 million. That suggests that some companies are continuing to rehire workers despite job cuts by other employers.

them eligible for aid for the first time. These figures aren't adjusted for seasonal variations, so the government doesn't include them in the official count.

Americans are seeking unemployment aid against the backdrop of a disturbing surge in confirmed viral cases, with increases reported in 38 states. Case counts have especially accelerated in four states that now account for more than half of reported new U.S. cases: Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

Applications for unemployment aid dropped last week in California and Florida, though in California they remained high, with more than 267,000 claims. That is more people than were applying each week for unemployment benefits in the entire country before the pandemic hit. Jobless claims also declined in Michigan and Colorado.

Still, applications for benefits spiked in Texas, Nevada, Tennessee and Louisiana — states where confirmed cases of the virus are intensifying. They also jumped in New Jersey and New York, where the pandemic is mostly under control.

From reports by WRDW, WCSC and The Associated Press

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