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Georgia jobless rate hits all-time high at 11.9% amid virus
Arnashia McCain uses her phone to copy phone numbers posted on the locked doors of a Georgia Department of Labor office Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Norcross Ga. McCain, who said she drives for Lyft and has had her hours cut in her job in retail, has been unable check on the status of her her unemployment claim. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — Georgia set a new all-time high for unemployment in April, with the  jobless rate rising to 11.9% as waves of workers lost their jobs due to COVID-19. 

The state only in February hit an all-time low of 3.1% unemployment and now has surpassed its previous all-time high of 10.6% set in December 2010. The jobless rate had begun to climb in March as the first effects of coronavirus related shutdowns showed up, rising to 4.2%.

The number of Georgians in the labor force fell from almost 5.2 million in March to less than 4.9 million in April, as many people gave up looking for work. The U.S. Department of Labor has said the actual unemployment rate may be higher because some people who have been furloughed are answering survey questions as if they're still getting a regular paycheck.

By comparison, the nationwide unemployment rate rose to 14.7% in April from 4.4% in March.

The number of Georgians reporting they have a job fell to the lowest level in more than eight years, while the number in the labor force fell to the lowest level in more than four years. 

One of the people out of work is Alexis Weber, who was bartending at a small restaurant east of downtown Atlanta when she was laid off. Like many others, Weber said it was a struggle to secure jobless benefits - she filed on April 1 and had to wait until early May to get her first payment.

"I had rent coming up," said Weber, recalling how stressful it was to get through the process with an overwhelmed state bureaucracy. Weber is now getting paid, easing that financial stress, but she's not sure when her employer will want her back, or if she will want to return.

"Social distancing doesn't really apply very well to the hospitality business," Weber said Thursday. "I don't feel safe returning right now."

Weber says she's relieved that Georgia has extended its unemployment benefits to 26 weeks, but she fears that after 20 years in the restaurant business, she may have to work multiple part-time jobs to replace her former income.

"Long-term, I'm beginning to think 'What are my other options?'" Weber said.

A separate survey of employer payrolls, considered by many economists to be the most significant job market measure, showed that Georgia payrolls fell by nearly 500,000, from 4.6 million in March to 4.1 million in April.

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, an elected Republican, expressed hope that Georgia's rebound would be rapid.

"I have no doubt that we will recover just as quickly and get back to our record lows once again," Butler said in a statement.

Another 176,000 Georgians filed seeking unemployment benefits last week. That brings the number of Georgians who have sought jobless benefits since the crisis began to more than 2 million. About 786,000 Georgians were getting payments, federal figures show, down by about 27,000 from the week before. The reason behind that drop wasn't immediately clear.

Some other applicants are getting special federal payments for the self-employed, gig economy workers, or those who meet other conditions. Anyone getting either traditional state or special federal benefits is also getting an extra $600 per week federal supplement.

Butler has said large numbers of applicants are being denied because they can't prove they were working, before the economy began shutting down.

Hotels, restaurants, stores, health care and social assistance groups saw the largest numbers of workers filing for unemployment, Georgia figures showed.

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