Unemployment rates may be higher now than they were at this time last year, but labor officials are optimistic that things are starting to turn around.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, 93,988 laid-off workers filed first-time claims for state unemployment insurance benefits in July. Last July, that number was only 59,165.
Despite increases in unemployment benefit claims, state officials report that July’s rates show a marked improvement over those from June.
"For instance, in Hall County there were 1,386 claims for unemployment insurance benefits. In June there were 1,750," said Sam Hall, labor department spokesman. "So although claims are up compared to last year, from June to July Hall County saw claims for unemployment insurance benefits slow."
The trend also continued in Jackson County from June to July. In June there were 577 claims; in July that number dropped to 559.
"The July jobless claims report presents a classic good news/bad news scenario," said Michael Thurmond, the state labor commissioner, in a statement. "Fewer Georgians are being laid off, but a rising number of laid-off workers are remaining unemployed for longer periods of time."
The state Labor Department reports that in July 2008 the average length of time that a jobless worker received unemployment benefits was 11.5 weeks. This year that average time has increased to 13.4 weeks.
In addition to the 163,839 unemployed workers who were receiving state unemployment benefits last month, 140,000 more individuals received the federally funded extended benefits.
The federal government approved a two-tiered system for extended unemployment benefits late last year. The system provides up to an additional 33 weeks of extended unemployment benefits for eligible jobless workers. The extended federal benefits program is set to expire in May.
Overall, there are 493,748 unemployed workers in Georgia, which represents a 10.3 percent unemployment rate.
"Hopefully we will continue to see claims decrease," said Hall. "At the same time, we hope that employers begin to rehire and create new jobs and put those who lost jobs back to work."