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Unemployment headed down in Georgia
Georgia Department of Labor
The Georgia Department of Labor offers state residents the opportunity to apply for unemployment benefits when in need. - photo by Sabrina Kerns

ATLANTA – Georgia’s unemployment rate fell to 4.3% last month, down from 4.5% in March, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

While the number of jobs in April declined by 9,300 from the previous month, it was up by 416,000 compared to April of last year, when the coronavirus pandemic was forcing businesses across Georgia to shut down and lay off workers.

Altogether, 69% of the jobs Georgia lost in March and April 2020 have come back.

“Georgia is continuing to see our unemployment rate drop and the labor force increase,” state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday. “[But] our focus is aligning job seekers with viable employment to continue to strengthen our economy.”

Meanwhile, Butler defended Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision last week to cut off supplemental federal unemployment benefits to out-of-work Georgians effective June 26.

In making that announcement last week, the governor argued the $300-per-week federal checks are acting as a disincentive for unemployed Georgians to return to work.

On Thursday, Butler put some numbers behind the governor’s case.

According to Butler, 82% of Georgians now receiving unemployment benefits earned less than $20,000 annually in their prior jobs. Counting the federal benefits, those same people are now receiving an equivalent salary of $28,808 by staying home, Butler said.

“Our job is not to provide wage replacement for individuals, but to offer career opportunities for Georgians to support their families and better their lives for years to come,” he said.

“Temporary financial support has served its short-term purpose, but providing training opportunities, increasing certification and access to increased education provides long-term solutions.”

Butler’s remarks came one day after labor advocates and Democratic state lawmakers descended on the Georgia Department of Labor’s headquarters in downtown Atlanta to call on Kemp the reverse his decision to end the federal unemployment benefits.

Members of the group accused the governor of ignoring ongoing difficulties many jobless Georgians have faced while searching for new jobs or going months without their unemployment claims being processed.

But Butler said a record number of jobs in Georgia are going begging for workers. More than 239,000 jobs are listed on the labor department’s website EmployGeorgia, with more than 72% of those openings paying more than $30,000 a year.

The industries with the highest number of positions currently posted are health care, retail trade, accommodations and food services, transportation and warehousing and manufacturing. Those same job categories have been among the hardest by the pandemic.