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Jobless rate falls once again in Georgia, South Carolina, but other states see an uptick

Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 7:57 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The unemployment picture continues to improve in both Georgia and South Carolina even as benefits will get cut within days. However, more people elsewhere in the country are applying for benefits. Here’s a look at the situation:

In Georgia

Georgia’s jobless rate continued to fall in May, dropping closer to where it was before the pandemic.

The state’s unemployment rate was 4.1% in May, down from 4.3% in April.

Fewer people sought jobs in May, but the number of unemployed people fell to about 212,000, because the number of people reporting they have jobs fell more slowly.

Employer payrolls rose by about 14,000 from April to May, with Georgia payrolls nearing 4.5 million.

The separate payrolls survey is considered the top job market indicator by economists.

Georgia workers continue to file for unemployment at elevated levels. More than 22,000 workers made initial filings for benefits during the week that ended June 12.

It comes as the end nears for the federal boost in unemployment benefits Georgia has been receiving.

At Gov. Brian Kemp’s urging, state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler opted the state out of the benefits as many businesses face a labor shortage. There’s a belief among some business leaders that many workers have been opting for unemployment benefits that are paying better than their wages would be in the workplace.

Despite that, many Georgians have faced monthslong delays in getting benefits over the past year.

And Georgia Department of Labor offices remain closed to the public despite the easing of the pandemic. Butler says there are plans to reopen the offices, but he emphasizes that they are meant as job training centers, while most unemployment benefit work is handled over the phone and online.

The snags with Butler’s agency have even led to talk of intervention at the federal level.

Democratic Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff’s staff said this week he’s secured a commitment from a key Biden administration appointee to help fix Georgia’s unemployment insurance system.

According to a report released by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute in February, the Georgia Department of Labor’s reliance on outdated technology is one of the key factors contributing to ongoing, widespread processing delays, according to Ossoff’s staff.

In a U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Ossoff asked Robin Carnahan, President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the administrator of the federal General Services Administration, to commit to helping Georgia’s Department of Labor upgrade their systems.

Carnahan committed to do so.

Ossoff stressed the fact that for thousands of Georgians who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the delays in unemployment insurance payments caused additional financial distress for families across the state in the midst of a public health crisis.

In March, Ossoff joined Sen. Raphael Warnock, Georgia Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and other members of the Georgia congressional delegation in calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to investigate delays in the processing of approved unemployment benefits throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

In South Carolina

South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce reported receiving the lowest total of initial unemployment claims last week it has recorded since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

For the week ending Saturday, the agency received 1,710 initial unemployment claims.

It is the fifth consecutive week since mid-March 2020 that the agency recorded a new low in totals.

It was also the third straight week the total first-time claims remained below 2,000.

The highest county total last week was in Greenville County with 182, followed by Spartanburg County’s 159. Richland County in the Midlands recorded 123 claims.

None of the Lowcountry counties reported more than 100, but Charleston County had the highest in the region with 93.

During last week, the state paid out a total of $54.5 million in a combination of state and federal unemployment benefits.

Since the pandemic began, the state has paid out a total of more than $6.36 billion.

The state recorded its highest total of first-time claims for the week ending April 11, 2020, when 87,686 were received.

Across the U.S.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week for the first time since April despite widespread evidence that the economy and the job market are rebounding steadily from the pandemic recession.

The Labor Department said jobless claims rose 37,000 from the week before. As the job market has strengthened, the number of weekly applications for unemployment aid has fallen for most of the year. The number of jobless claims generally reflects the pace of layoffs.

With vaccinations up and more consumers venturing out to spend — on restaurant meals, airline fares, movie tickets and store purchases — the economy is rapidly recovering from the recession. All that renewed spending has fueled customer demand and led many companies to seek new workers, often at higher wages, and avoid layoffs.

In fact, the speed of the rebound from the recession has caught many businesses off guard and touched off a scramble to hire. In May, employers added a less-than-expected 559,000 jobs, evidence that many companies are struggling to find enough workers as the economy recovers faster than expected.

But many economists expect hiring to catch up with demand in the coming months, especially as federal unemployment aid programs end and more people pursue jobs. They note that the economy still has 7.6 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic struck.

And employers are posting job openings faster than applicants can fill them. In April, they advertised a record 9.3 million job openings, up a sharp 12% from the number in March.

The rapid rollout of vaccines has brought the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases down to an average of just over 12,000, from around 250,000 a day in early January.

Though jobless claims have tumbled since the start of 2021, when they exceeded 900,000, they remain high by historical standards. Before the pandemic paralyzed the economy in March 2020, unemployment applications were running at about 220,000 a week.

In Thursday’s report, the government said a total of 3.5 million Americans were continuing to collect traditional state unemployment benefits in the week ending June 5, up by just 1,000 from the week before.

Many Americans are contending with health and child care issues related to COVID-19 and with career uncertainty after the recession wiped out many jobs for good. Some who have lost work during the pandemic have decided to retire. Others are taking their time looking for work because, in some cases, supplemental federal jobless benefits, on top of regular state unemployment aid, pay them more than their old jobs did.

Many states, though, are set to begin dropping the supplemental federal jobless aid this month.

From reports by The Associated Press WRDW/WAGT and WCSC