Unemployment claims tumble in city, state

ALBANY -- The good news concerning jobs in metro Albany appears to be that it's not getting worse.

The Georgia Department of Labor announced Thursday that 70,597 laid-off workers filed initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits last month, a decrease of 2.8 percent from October 2008.

During the same period, Metro Albany saw a decrease of 7.4 percent, with a 6.1 percent decrease from September to October of this year.

The number of unemployment insurance claimants increased by 3,983, or 6.0 percent, from September when 66,614 claims were filed. The average length of time jobless Georgia workers drew benefits increased from 11.6 weeks in October 2008 to 14.4 weeks in October 2009.

"While it appears to be a positive that unemployment claims have fallen from the previous year, my main concern is that the time length for drawing unemployment insurance benefits has risen," said Aaron Johnson, assistant professor of economics at Darton College. "This can be reversed if our national recovery can build up steam and start to filter down to Georgia and eventually Albany."

The Labor Department has expressed the same level of concern.

"The pace of layoffs continues to slow, but if people are already out of work, it is taking them longer to find work," said Communications Director Sam Hall.

The number of jobless workers receiving state unemployment insurance benefits rose 32.8 percent over the year, from 98,530 in October 2008 to 130,812 this year. An additional 146,000 claimants are receiving federally-funded extended benefits, which brings the number of beneficiaries to 276,812.

There have been increases and decreases in the number of initial unemployment claims depending on the region of the state. The Dalton area saw the greatest decrease with a 41.5 percent decline over the year. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Savannah has seen an increase of 26.2 percent from October 2008.

What may be interesting to see is how the holiday shopping season can help sustain recovery, Johnson said.

"If actual holiday spending can exceed expectations, then I can see the job picture improving quicker," he said. "As for Albany, any immediate improvement will be seen in our retail and service industries. Looking down the road, there could be opportunities for our area to benefit when businesses start to build up their inventory and increase their manufacturing activity, which remains relatively low.

"Given our low cost of living and manufacturing capacity, there could be future opportunities to attract that large employer that significantly brightens our local economy."

In order to regain some footing, the Labor Department advises workers to expand their skill sets by going back to school to pursue jobs in fields that are currently growing, such as health care.

"There are going to be jobs opening up in health facilities," Hall said. "People might want to look at going back to school."