Originally created 01/16/04

Augusta ducks sharp rise in jobless claims



Georgia saw a huge jump in people filing for initial unemployment benefits in December, but Augusta boasted the smallest increase of any metro area in the state.

The number of people filing first-time jobless claims rose 65 percent statewide to 59,206, compared with 35,933 in November, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

Augusta's claims grew to 1,669, a 39 percent increase from 1,197 in November, beating Atlanta, Savannah, Columbus and the state's other metro areas.

"We're definitely glad to see there was no sharp increase," said Beverly Johnson, the director of the Labor Department's Augusta Career Center. "We haven't had anything major happen in this area to greatly affect claims."

Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said job cuts at Georgia companies such as EarthLink, WestPoint Stevens, Flint River Textiles and Lord and Taylor have contributed to the unemployment claims.

"These new losses not only affect workers whose jobs are being terminated, but make it even harder for Georgians who have been out of work for months to find employment," he said.

Economic development officials in cities experiencing increases said the cold December weather and the end of seasonal jobs also were likely factors.

In Athens, unemployment claims grew by 100 percent, from 477 to 953.

"One hundred percent is unusual. I don't think we've ever seen that before," said Drew Page, the president of the Athens-Clarke County Economic Development Foundation. "I'm trying to think of any major factor that would cause that to happen. Cold weather always causes slowdowns in construction industry; we had some unusually cold weather - for us - in December."

Mike Gaymon, the president and chief executive of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce, downplayed the figures, saying the area's 102 percent increase didn't factor in oddities.

JOBLESS CLAIMS

In Georgia's seven largest metropolitan areas, the number of new unemployment claims last month compared with November, and the percentage change:

ALBANY: 1,094, up from 515, 112 percent

ATHENS: 953, up from 477, 100 percent

ATLANTA: 18,268, up from 12,525, 46 percent

AUGUSTA: 1,669, up from 1,197, 39 percent

COLUMBUS: 2,472, up from 1,222, 102 percent

MACON: 1,580, up from 988, 60 percent

SAVANNAH: 1,820, up from 791, 130 percent

Source: Georgia Department of Labor