Unemployment benefits resume as local jobless rates rise again

Unemployment benefits resume as local jobless rates rise again

July 23rd, 2010 by Yolanda Putman in News

Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Willie James "Skip" Hunter states his preference for the available jobs at the Southeast Tennessee Career Center on Monday afternoon. Depending on the week he will sometimes check in on available jobs at the career center five days a week.

Willie James "Skip" Hunter says he has applied for work everywhere he can since he lost his truck-driving job in 2008.

He has survived for most of the past two years on extended jobless benefits. But since June 2, Mr. Hunter has been among 2.5 million Americans who have lost their unemployment benefits because of a congressional budget deadlock.

On Thursday, Congress ended the seven-week stalemate over extended benefits, providing relief for Mr. Hunter and nearly 150,000 other Tennesseans and Georgians who recently lost their jobless benefits.

President Barack Obama signed the benefits into law later Thursday.

Retroactive payments could go out as early as next week in some states, although Tennessee and Georgia officials said it will likely be early August before eligible recipients are identified, notified and mailed their back checks.

"I need the money," said Mr. Hunter, a 52-year-old father of a recent high school graduate who said he needs to support his child in college. "I have no income."

Local unemployment figures released Thursday indicate a growing number of area residents were without jobs in June compared with the previous month.

Unemployment rose across the region by three-tenths of 1 percent to 9 percent in metropolitan Chattanooga, 9.6 percent in metropolitan Cleveland and 11.8 percent in metropolitan Dalton, according to figures from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and the Georgia Department of Labor.

Among 18 area counties, the nonseasonally adjusted jobless rate rose in June in 15 counties. In 13 of those counties, the jobless rate stayed above 10 percent last month.

Mandy Bartley, a 30-year-old mother of two who lives near Chatsworth, Ga., said she lost her hospital job last year and her extended jobless benefits ended last month. She was at the Dalton office of the Georgia Labor Department on Thursday, filling out papers to qualify for the retroactive unemployment benefits.

"It's been very hard without any benefits and, unfortunately, my husband also had his work hours cut back," she said. "I've been trying to find a job, but most places aren't even taking applications."

Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond called the prolonged recession "a crisis facing Georgia's economy" and said June's rise in unemployment "shows signs of renewed deterioration" in the state's labor market.

Georgia has lost 56,600 jobs over the past year and ranked second among the 50 states, behind only California, for the greatest number of job losses from June 2009 to June 2010.

"A sharp increase in the number of discouraged workers, rising long-term unemployment, increased new layoffs and anemic job growth suggests that the fledgling economic recovery may be losing steam," Mr. Thurmond said.

Tennessee has fared better over the past year, adding a net 31,000 jobs, even though the state's jobless rate remained above 10 percent last month.

Although unemployment rose across Southeast Tennessee in June, Hamilton County's 9.1 percent jobless rate was still the second-lowest among the state's biggest counties and was above only Knox County's 7.8 percent rate.

"Modest gains in areas like construction and leisure and hospitality jobs were offset by losses in education and census workers," said Tennessee Labor Commissioner Jim Neeley.

The extended federal jobless benefits will provide a modest economic boost next month when checks arrive for those cut off from the program in June. Most Republicans opposed the measure, however, because it would add $34 billion to a national debt that has hit $13 trillion.

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