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Gainesville area's unemployment claims skyrocket 216 percent
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The Georgia Department of Labor said unemployment insurance claims shot up 174 percent last month compared to December 2007, with one of the top increases coming in the Gainesville area.

Gainesville claims were up a whopping 216 percent compared to 2007.

Among metropolitan areas with the highest increase in claims last month, Rome and Dalton were up about 350 percent.

The areas with the smallest increases were Hinesville, 92 percent, Macon at 116 and Augusta with a 119 percent jump.

In a telephone interview with The Times, Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said the Hall County industries that have been impacted the most by the economy are manufacturing and textiles.

"Of the initial claims that were filed in December, over 1,300 of them were in those two categories alone — 1,040 in Manufacturing and 300 in textiles," Thurmond said.

Thurmond said though Hall County has certainly seen the results of the poor economy, the problem has much deeper roots.

"That’s primarily a result of the housing crisis and the credit crunch," Thurmond said. "The source is not centered there in Gainesville and Hall County. The problem is a national one, and international actually because we’re in a global recession right now. Because of that the impact is local but the source of the cause is national and international."

Thurmond said no one in his office saw the large increase in jobless insurance claims coming.

"The numbers for December were surprising to say the least. Obviously unemployment had been creeping up over the previous six months but that type of increase was not expected by myself or the labor department," Thurmond said.

Aside from the difficulty many employers likely had obtaining lines of credit, consumers purchasing less over the last few months made the problem worse.

"It’s all interconnected," Thurmond said.

The current picture may be bleak, but Thurmond said Hall County is doing better than many others.

"The leadership, particularly the chamber leadership, Kit Dunlap and elected officials, have worked in recent years to diversify the local economy... relatively speaking, Gainesville has done better than other parts of the state," Thurmond said.

Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the high numbers may be attributed to people from other counties using the Gainesville Career Center.

"It has increased at the Gainesville Career Center ... The Gainesville Career Center serves five counties," Dunlap said. "It’s a convenient location for Gwinnett (County) and others to get to."

Dunlap doesn’t think the new numbers are cause for concern.

"I don’t think it’s anything necessarily to get disturbed about," Dunlap said. "We’re a large employment base."

Statewide, Thurmond said 128,625 laid-off workers filed first-time claims in December.

His department also processed 19,160 first-time claims for federal extended unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 111,384 since the program triggered in Georgia in July. Federal extended benefits are available to jobless workers who have exhausted regular state unemployment compensation.

Thurmond urged people without jobs to stay optimistic and explore other options, such as taking courses at a technical college to improve their skills.

"We’re encouraging people not to give up," Thurmond said.