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Hall County's jobless claims rose 58.3 percent in January
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Georgia’s employment situation isn’t getting any better.

The state Department of Labor released data Thursday showing 2,351 persons filed new unemployment insurance claims in Hall County in January. The figures represent an increase of 866, 58.3 percent, from the same time a year ago.

Statewide, the number of people filing first-time claims jumped 80.7 percent in January from 2008. Labor officials said that 120,139 people who have been laid off filed for benefits in January.

The state’s greatest increase was in the Dalton area, home to the state’s carpet industry that has been hit hard by the drop-off in housing starts. There were 9,260 persons who filed for unemployment in Dalton, compared with 3,498 in January 2008.

Most of the state initial claims were filed by laid-off workers in manufacturing, trade, administrative services, including temporary employment agencies, and construction. The number of jobless workers receiving unemployment insurance benefits rose 92 percent over the year, from 95,870 in January 2008 to 183,829 in January 2009.

"The growing number of layoffs has created a surplus of job seekers who are talented, experienced, educated, and well-trained," State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said. "In this challenging environment, the most successful job seekers will be those who demonstrate the highest levels of persistence, determination, and above all, flexibility when looking for work."

Also, in January, the labor department processed 14,205 first-time claims for federal extended unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 125,589 since the federal program began in Georgia in July. Federal extended benefits are available to jobless workers who have exhausted regular state unemployment compensation.

Thurmond predicts Georgia’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate, a half percentage point above the national rate of 7.6 percent, would likely get worse before it improves.

"I believe that we will see double-digit unemployment in Georgia," Thurmond said.

Thurmond said Thursday that the state’s job market is being flooded with skilled, talented workers with college degrees.

"We are witnessing the emergence of a ‘Darwinian’ job market," he said.

The state’s skyrocketing unemployment is placing pressure on the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which paid out $140 million in January and another $144 million in December, the highest in state history, Thurmond said.

The fund still has $753 million and Thurmond said he remained confident it would remain solvent for the remainder of 2009.

"The trust fund is a finite resource ... but we are in better shape than some others," Thurmond said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.