The coronavirus pulled the rug out from the Carpet Capital last month, pushing unemployment in metropolitan Dalton to a record high rate of 20.5%.
The Georgia Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that employers in Whitfield and Murray counties shed 1,657 jobs during April following major job cuts in March. Over the past 12 months, employment in the Dalton area fell by 13.8%, or 8,569 jobs, as carpet mills, restaurants and other major employers furloughed workers due to government-ordered shutdowns and lower sales.
"This is probably the low point in terms of labor markets and obviously reflects the shut down of the economy in April," said Dr. Jeffrey Humphries, director of the Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. "The economy was strong going into March, but when we shut things down to fight the coronavirus there were heavy job losses across a wide range of industries."
With a majority of carpet in America made in Northwest Georgia, Dalton was especially hard hit by the factory shutdowns over the past couple of months by the biggest floorcovering manufacturers in the country. Most reported sales drops from 35 to 50% during April as cautious consumers held off of carpet and other floorcovering purchases.
Jobless in April
The unemployment rate for most counties in Northwest Georgia tripled the levels in March
* Dade County, 7.7%, up from 3.8% in March
* Catoosa County, 10%, up from 3.6% in March
* Walker County, 10.9%, up from 4% in March
* Chattooga County, 17.1%, up from 5.6% in March
* Murray County, 20.1%, up from 5.7% in March
* Whitfield County, 20.6%, up from 5% in March
Source: Georgia Department of Labor
Dalton's jobless rate in April was the highest of any of the 14 metro areas in Georgia and topped the previous record high unemployment rate of 14% for Dalton reached in March 2009 during the depths of the Great Recession. Dalton's jobless rate was nearly double Georgia's statewide unemployment rate of 11.9% last month.
"I certainly hope this is the worst of what we will see," said Rob Bradham, president of the Dalton Chamber of Commerce. "This downturn was caused almost entirely by the coronavirus and is much different from what we saw in the housing-related downturn of the Great Recession. We are in a stronger position to recover once we are able to deal with this health care crisis."
Humphries said he expects the job market should improve through the balance of the year as the economy reopens, although the May rate could be even higher as a new crop of high school and college graduates enter the workforce.
"I think he worst of the recession in behind us, but I think a full recovery for all of the jobs we have lost is still a long ways off because there is still a lot of uncertainty about this pandemic," Humphries said.
Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Thursday that unemployment across Northwest Georgia spiked in April, reaching an all-time high.
In the 15-county Northwest Georgia region, the unemployment rate increased in April to 13.3 percent, an increase of 9 percentage points. A year ago, the rate was 3.1 percent.
"Although we are seeing all-time high unemployment rates across a majority of the state, we are continuing to work with employers on effective strategies to get Georgians back to work in both a safe and economically efficient way," Butler said.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340