By Michael E. Kanell, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlantic-ga
Ga. jobless claims eased in September but far above pre-pandemic times
Georgia’s economic recovery is moving forward unevenly with the slowest jobs growth among low-income workers — especially women.
The state has been adding jobs since April, but layoffs are still at recession levels and even growing companies are cautious about hiring.
Hardest hit have been women who are disproportionately represented in hospitality, schools, daycare centers and health care. Four months after most restrictions were lifted on businesses, many of the jobs lost in those sectors have not returned.
“Women are suffering a triple whammy,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president for income security and child care issues at the National Women’s Law Center. “They are more likely to be front-line workers, more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be at home doing caregiving and childcare.”
Women in Georgia were 20% more likely to be out of work than men, according to a survey by the Census Bureau.
An added challenge for job seekers with young children: With many school districts teaching remotely because of the coronavirus, someone needs to stay home with the kids.
Georgia’s Department of Labor said Thursday it processed 43,526 new jobless claims last week, the third consecutive week below 50,000. That is far below the peaks of the spring, but still about eight times as high as the average pre-pandemic week.
Nationally, 787,000 Americans filed for state unemployment benefits, down about 40,000 from the previous week, but still historically high, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Nationally, the number of women working has fallen by 5.8 million since February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of men working is down by 5.6 million.
Leslie Stevens, 50, of Brookhaven was a trainer for a company that franchised childcare centers.
“I thought that this was a company I’d retire from,” she said.
Furloughed in April, she was laid off in June and had to scramble to replace health insurance, as well as the phone and computer that went back to the company.
“Then the air conditioning in the car broke,” she said. “Because life still happens.”
Her job search has convinced her that many companies are skittish about making a commitment. “They don’t know what’s around the corner. But none of us do.”
Her husband is still working, but she worries about having money to buy presents at Christmas.
More than one in five Georgians say they find paying normal household expenses at least a little bit difficult, and nearly as many — 15% — said it is very tough , according to a survey by the Census Bureau.
Unemployment benefits eased the burden — at least through July, when a $600-a-week federal pandemic subsidy ended. A second federal subsidy totaling up to $1,800 has been provided for many of those still out of work, but Congress has been unable to strike a deal to extend payments.
Without those subsidies, Georgia’s jobless benefits paid by the state government top out at $365 a week.
More than 640,000 Georgians are receiving benefits, far more than the number of job openings. What job growth there is tilts toward better-paid, better-educated workers — especially techies.
Georgia in August added 21,700 jobs. While the state has added 317,000 jobs since the spring’s pandemic-trigger closures, employment is still 200,000 below February levels.
By late summer, there were more jobs in Georgia for high-wage workers — those making more than $60,000 a year — than before the pandemic, according to the Opportunity Tracker at Harvard University.
In contrast, there were 2.9% fewer jobs at middle wages. For workers making less than $27,000 a year, there were 13.9% fewer jobs, and that number had not been improving.
Even prosperous companies are worried, said Ryan Hansen, metro market manager for Robert Half, a global staffing firm with five offices in Atlanta.
“People are hesitant to hire permanently,” he said. “There’s still a fear of the unknown.”
The spread of the coronavirus, as well as political uncertainty, are the biggest concerns, he said.
Hansen said the percentage of contractors in the workforce has increased. Not hiring permanent employees gives companies flexibility, but it also means the state’s job growth can be reversed quickly because companies can shed workers if business sours.
More than 3.7 million jobless claims have been processed in Georgia since mid-March.
David Peppers, 52, of Atlanta, a longtime bartender and restaurant worker, was working at an airport lounge when the pandemic hit. He lost the job, filed for jobless benefits and tried to be frugal.
He’s had some help from friends, he’s getting food stamps and he has a landlord who has — thus far — been patient about receiving the rent.
Overall consumer spending in Georgia last month was 4.2% below January levels, according to Harvard researchers. But spending on hotels and restaurants was down 22.5%.
“Yes, I am out of money,” Peppers said. “It is a bit scary. I am working without a safety net.”
Georgians having trouble paying their bills
Not difficult: 37.4%
A little difficult: 23.4%
Somewhat difficult: 20.1%
Very difficult: 14.6%
No response: 4.5%
Source: Census Bureau Pulse Survey
New jobless claims in Georgia, week ending:
Sept. 5: 50,320
Sept. 12: 42,085
Sept. 19: 49,421
Sept. 26: 43,526
Source: Georgia Department of Labor