Georgia struggling with “unprecedented” unemployment levels

State expected to surpass 1 million unemployment claims in next couple of weeks

ATLANTA — The number of initial unemployment claims has reached an all-time high in Georgia.

The State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said since March 14, almost 1 million Georgians have filed for unemployment. To put that in perspective, that’s one out of every 10 people in Georgia.

Claims are up 1500% from this time last year.

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The wave of layoffs that has engulfed the U.S. economy since the coronavirus struck forced 5.2 million more Americans to seek unemployment benefits last week, the government reported Thursday. More than 300,000 of those were right here in Georgia.

“We are reaching unprecedented claim levels of almost one million Georgians filing for unemployment,” Butler said. “That is one in every ten people who are turning to the GDOL for unemployment assistance. This is a massive undertaking, but one that I know we are capable of achieving.”

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Georgia’s March 2020 statistics show the largest over-the-month increase for unemployment on record. The unemployment rate increased by 1.1 percent in March, to reach 4.2 percent. A year ago, the rate was 3.7 percent.

Unemployment claims showed an increase of 290,068 claims or 1,292 percent in March.The monthly total was higher than the annual total for each of the previous two years.

The following sectors saw the highest increase in initial claims for unemployment over the month.

• Accommodation and Food Services – 132,564

• Health Care and Social Assistance– 37,621

• Trade – 23,074

Channel 2’s Tony Thomas went to the Department of Labor office in Gwinnett County Thursday and found several people there, even though the office is closed. They told him they haven’t been able to get through by calling or emailing, and they need answers.

“I don’t have anything in the bank,” one person said. “I have bills to pay. I have to pay rent, phone, cars… and there’s nothing there.”

The GDOL said it has received an overwhelming number of calls, emails, and messages from applicants concerned about their claims. The agency said it is working to automate many steps of the unemployment process to reduce the time necessary to issue payments.

During the 2009 recession year, the GDOL said it processed a million claims with more than 2,000 staff members. Today, the GDOL said it is processing that number in a month with less than 1,000 staff members.

The department is asking applicants to use online resources found on the GDOL website before contacting the agency. The department said it will allow staff to focus on claimants whose issues require system adjustments.

Yesterday, there were over 380,000 users on the website, almost double the traffic seen during all of February, the department said. The agency said it has implemented a new ChatBot feature that answered over 84,000 questions yesterday.

Employ Georgia posted more than 99,632 statewide job listings during the month of March. You can see the latest job openings HERE.

Are you eligible for unemployment in Georgia?

In Georgia, the Department of Labor handles unemployment benefits and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Applicants must meet the following three eligibility requirements in order to collect unemployment benefits in Georgia, according to NOLO.com:

• Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.

• You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Georgia law.

• You must be able and available to work, and you must be actively seeking employment.

How do you file unemployment claim in Georgia?

The Department of Labor has temporarily suspended in-person requirements for services provided by the department because of the coronavirus crisis. You can file your claim online here.

In order to file a claim, you will need your Social Security number, your driver’s license if you have one, your bank’s routing number and account number and your work information history for the last 18 months.

Georgia’s unemployment director, Denise Beckwith, walked Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston through how to apply for unemployment benefits online

“There’s a big banner that says, 'New information for filing for unemployment.' They’ll go down our homepage to an area to a link called Online Services,” Beckwith said. “They’ll go down to the link that says Apply for Unemployment Benefits.”

Beckwith said the Department of Labor will send you two emails. The second is a confirmation, and you will begin to receive benefits. She told Huddleston if you have problems, this is what to do:

“There’s a link at the top of our page that says Contact Us. Click on that, Career Center and that will give you a list of the career centers around the state,” Beckwith said.

Beckwith said the website called Georgia Employment has information about thousands of jobs around the state.

“UPS is hiring for delivery, Amazon or for delivery drivers, Publix, Kroger, just several different companies that have reached out looking for workers during this time," Beckwith said.

She told Huddleston that the state has extended how long you can receive unemployment benefits from 14 weeks to 26 weeks.

RAW VIDEO: State Director of Unemployment explains how to file for benefits