New state jobless claims surged in March

ATLANTA - New jobless claims surged last month, jumping 126 percent from March 2008, the state Labor Department reported on Thursday.

Officials said 96,306 laid-off workers filed first-time claims for state unemployment insurance benefits in March. That suggests the state's record-high 9.3 percent unemployment rate won't be going down anytime soon, and could be set to move into the double digits.

Georgia's jobless rate is above the national average of 8.5 percent.

'Were still in a very soft job market and the short-term prospects are not looking good,' state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said Thursday.

The metropolitan areas with the highest percentage of increase in claims were Gainesville, up 249.4 percent; Rome, up 218.4 percent; and Brunswick, up 185.0 percent. Atlanta was up 116.8 percent.

In Gwinnett County, initial claim filings were up 4.7 percent in the last month and are up 136.2 percent over the course of the last year. Neighboring county Barrow saw an increase over the month of 3.1 percent and over the year of 85 percent. Walton County's increase for the last month was 4.8 percent; for the year it was 139.1 percent. Jackson County's increase for the month was 6.1 percent and for the year it's 119.2 percent. Hall County appeared to be the hardest hit of Gwinnett's neighbors. It's increase in initial unemployment claim filings for the month was 6.8 percent. For the year, the increase is 254.6 percent.

Thurmond said the north Georgia regions of Gainesville and Rome have been hit hard by the struggling carpet industry there. About three-quarters of the nation's carpet is manufactured in north Georgia and the collapse of the housing market has been punishing for the industry. leading to layoffs and plant closures.

The areas with the smallest increase in claims were Valdosta, up 44.6 percent; Hinesville, up 70.4 percent; and Albany, up 85.2 percent.

Most of the state initial claims were filed by laid-off workers in manufacturing, trade, construction, and administrative and support services.

The number of jobless workers receiving unemployment insurance benefits rose 133 percent over the year, from 74,294 in March of 2008 to 172,947 in March of 2009.

State officials say that more than half of Georgia's 159 counties are already seeing double-digit unemployment.

Thurmond said Thursday that there was one glimmer of hope on the horizon. For the first days of April, Thurmond said there had been a dip in the number of Georgians filing unemployment claims. Thurmond said it's too soon to say whether that will hold for the month.

But we're looking for any hopeful sign at the point,' he said.

Staff writer Jamie Ward contributed to this report.