Georgia jobless rate plunges in October as more find jobs

Many more people found jobs in Georgia in October as the state’s unemployment rate decreased sharply.

The state’s jobless rate fell to 4.5% in October from 6.3% in September, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Labor.

Nearly 225,000 more people reported having jobs, as nearly 150,000 more people flooded into the labor force. The number of unemployed Georgians fell to 231,000 in October from almost 314,000 in September.

The strength reversed a weak showing in September that had raised questions about Georgia’s recovery from the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in April had pushed the state’s jobless rate to a record 12.6%. It was 3.1% in February before layoffs began.

The nationwide unemployment rate in October was 6.9%, down from 7.9% in September.

A separate survey of employer payrolls — the top indicator for economists — also had good news, although not as jaw-dropping as the unemployment rate improvement. Georgia businesses hired an additional 25,000 people in October, boosting business employment to about 4.49 million people. Employer payrolls have recovered much of what they lost earlier this year, but remain about 160,000 jobs below the all-time record hit in February.

“The fact that we have so quickly reduced our unemployment rate to almost pre-pandemic levels demonstrates how strong our economy was prior to the crisis and how we are successfully recovering economically,” Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, an elected Republican, said in a statement.

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Last week, 19,000 Georgians filed new unemployment claims, down from 24,000 the week before. After pausing, jobless claims are again declining, but more than 250,000 people are collecting state unemployment checks. Another 250,000 are collecting special federal unemployment assistance. The federal money covers people who aren’t eligible for regular state benefits, such as the self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers, or employees of churches and nonprofits.

Georgia collects unemployment taxes from businesses to fund its state benefits, but that piggy bank, which stood above $2.5 billion in March, has run dry. Georgia has already borrowed nearly $775 million from the U.S. Treasury to keep paying state benefits. Gov. Brian Kemp is bailing out the fund using up to $1.5 billion in federal COVID-19 aid.