FILE - GA Mark Butler 7-18-2019

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler

(The Center Square) – Georgia’s unemployment rate for April was the highest rate the state has ever seen, the state’s top labor official said Thursday.

The unemployment rate was 11.9 percent in April, jumping 7.3 percentage points from March. The month-to-month increase also was highest one-month increase ever recorded in the state, Georgia Department of Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.

A year ago, in April, the rate was 3.6 percent. 

“This is the highest unemployment rate on record, eclipsing the previous high of 10.6 percent that occurred in December 2010,” Butler said.

Initial unemployment claims in April (1.04 million) exceeded the total number of claims for the past four years, Butler said, as unemployment applications continued to pile up as a result of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Unemployment claims surged by 333 percent from March to April, bringing the overall number of claims to 1,353,921 – about 54,000 more claims than what the labor department received in 2016 through 2019.

Claims in April were 80,000 higher than in December 2010, caused by fallout from the 2007 to 2009 Great Recession.

In February, a month before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Georgia, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.1 percent, which was an all-time low for Georgia. In February 2019, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.6 percent.

The state has seen a downward trend of unemployment claims over the past four years. Georgia saw a considerable decline in year-over-year claims between 2016 and 2017, when claims dropped by 46,500. Unemployment claims decreased by an average of 26,700 from 2016 to 2019.

During the recovery period from the Great Recession, Georgia saw an average of 3,000 jobs lost a month between June 2009 and September 2011. It was among the worst in the nation, according to a 2012 policy report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.

The Great Recession was the result of a financial and housing market crash. The current economic downturn is consequential of a shorter shutdown of Georgia’s economy in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Most businesses, schools and other organizations closed their doors as residents were ordered by Gov. Brian Kemp to stay home for 20 days, from April 2 through April 24.

Kemp has since allowed most businesses to reopen. Performance venues, bars and nightclubs are the exception and must remain closed through May 31.

“The surge in initial claims in accommodation and food services, retail trade, health care, manufacturing, and administrative and support services accounted for two-thirds of all initial claims processed,” Butler said.

GDOL has seen a decline in new weekly claims. It processed 177,731 regular state initial claims last week, a decrease of 65,000 from the week before, labor officials said Thursday.

“I have no doubt that we will recover just as quickly and get back to our record lows once again,” Butler said.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.