Labor commissioner says a serious workforce issue remains in Georgia

press release from the Georgia department of labor

NE Georgia initial unemployment insurance claims down, labor force down, unemployment rate up slightly

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Thursday that NE Georgia saw an over-the-month and over-the-year decrease in its initial claims in May 2021. The NE Georgia district incorporates Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe, and Walton counties.

“This is a step in the right direction, but we need to continue to get Georgians back to work,” said Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler. “Increasing the number of people in our labor force is critical for us to continue to improve.”

In Walton County, initial claims in May 2021 were 806, down 75 from the 881 last month or 8.5 % and 6,579 or 89.1 % down from the 7,385 initial claims in May 2020.

In Gwinnett County, initial claims in May 2021 were 10,801, down 985 (8.0 % from last month) and 69,248, or 86.9 % down from the 80,049 initial claims in May 2020.

In NE Georgia, the unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points, reaching 3.4 %. A year ago, the rate was 8.4 %.

However, the labor force decreased in May by 1,883. The May total was 309,264. That number is up by 9,058 from the total from May 2020.

NE Georgia ended May with 298,776 employed residents. The number decreased by 2,323 in May and was up 23,869 as compared to last year.

Initial claims for unemployment decreased by 4 % in May. When compared to last May, claims were down by about 89 %. The GDOL’s online job listing service at showed 8,081 active job postings in NE Georgia

Georgia’s May unemployment rate dropped another 0.2 percentage points to reach 4.1 % in May as the labor force declined 12,478 to reach a total of 5,160,501. The labor force increased gradually during the first quarter of 2021 but dropped in May despite the lifting of many pandemic restrictions and an increase in the state’s vaccination rates. Georgia’s employed residents in May saw a decrease of 2,292, reaching a total of 4,948,784, and the number of unemployed dropped 10,186 for a total of 211,717.

“Although the unemployment rate has continued to trend downward for the past 13 months, the focus should not be on the rate,” Butler said. “We have a serious workforce issue reflected in the monthly drop in the labor force. We are looking to reemploy Georgians as a critical component for our economic recovery.”

The state’s labor force participation rate for May 2021 was 61.8 percent, maintaining a flat rate since October 2020 when the rate was 61.7 percent. The labor force participation rate is defined as the percentage of the population old enough to work currently counted in the labor force. This rate measures how many Georgians are working or seeking work and is reflective of the total sum of unemployed and employed workers. Those identified as unemployed, but have not looked for a job in the past month, are not considered to be in the work force.

“If today’s labor force participation rate matched that of March 2020 when the rate was 62.9 percent, 45,000 more people would be in the labor force and the unemployment rate would be 5 percent instead of 4.1 percent,” Butler said. “With the number of jobs listed in Employ Georgia combined with the number of employers I am hearing from daily who are struggling to find employees, we need to see our labor force increase dramatically.”

Jobs in May increased by 7,000, reaching a total of 4,481,100. This number is up 295,800 compared to the same time last year. Since April 2020, 424,100 (70 percent) of the 609,500 jobs lost in March 2020 and April 2020 have been gained back.

The jobs listed online at Employ Georgia exceed 233,000 job listings – more than triple the amount of the 70,000 listings in April of 2020. Almost 3/4 of these jobs show salaries above $30,000. In many cases, employers are willing to train quality candidates and assist with obtaining additional credentials. The sectors with the most over-the-month job gains included Health Care and Social Assistance, 2,900, Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services, 2,100, Educational Services, 2,000, Administrative and Support Services, 1,700, Non-Durable Goods Manufacturing, 1,500, and Accommodation and Food Services, 1,500.

The GDOL has paid more than $22 billion in state and federal benefits in the past sixty five weeks. Last week, the GDOL issued $163million in benefits, which included regular unemployment and federally funded Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) supplements, Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), and State Extended Benefits.

Since the week ending March 21, 2020, 4,897,767 regular UI initial claims have been processed, more than the 10 years prior to the pandemic combined (4.8 million). Last week, regular UI initial claims totaled 22,524, up 284 over the week. Initial claims are defined as any notice of unemployment filed to request a determination of entitlement to or eligibility of unemployment insurance compensation OR to begin a second or subsequent period of eligibility within a benefit year. Initial claims numbers are not a direct correlation to layoffs. Additionally, the agency currently has 167,298 active PUA claims.

The industries with the most claims for the week included accommodation and food services, administrative and support services, and retail trade.
Resources for reemployment assistance along with Information on filing an unemployment claim and details on how employers can file partial claims can be found on the agency’s webpage at

For more information on jobs and current labor force data, visit the Georgia Labor Force Market Explorer at to view a comprehensive report.

Visit to learn more about career opportunities, Employ Georgia, and other GDOL services for job seekers and employers.  

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