Georgia sets all-time low unemployment record despite pandemic

Georgia Commisioner of Labor Mark Butler

ATLANTA – Georgia posted the strongest employment numbers last month since the coronavirus pandemic began more than a year and a half ago, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Unemployment fell to a record low of 3.2% in September, dipping below the 3.3% jobless rate posted in January of last year, shortly before COVID-19 struck Georgia.

The number of employed Georgians rose above 5 million for the first time since the pandemic began, and the 161,786 listed as unemployed was at its lowest level since June 2001.

“This is excellent progress for Georgia,” state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday. “It shows that the state’s economy is rapidly recovering, and [the labor department’s] programs, along with other state policies, are working to get people back to work.”

The number of jobs statewide rose 14,300 last month compared to August. As a result, the state has regained 521,000 of the 609,500 jobs lost during the early stages of the pandemic in March and April of last year.

The job sector  posting the most over-the-month job gains were retail trade, which gained 5,900 jobs in September. The number of wholesale trade jobs in Georgia was up by 2,100, and jobs in the transportation and warehousing sector increased by 1,800.

At the same time, accommodation and food services – the job sector hardest hit by the pandemic – is still down by 52,000 jobs.

“Our teams are proactively reaching out to unemployed jobseekers around the state to offer support services with finding a job, along with staff doing specialized recruitments,” Butler said.

First-time unemployment claims dropped substantially last month by 19,037 to 28,835. For the year, initial jobless claims are down 172,955, or 86%.

The labor department has 193,739 job openings posted on the Employ Georgia website, with a minimum of 308,106 unfilled positions.

“This is almost twice the number of available jobs than we have people currently looking for employment,” Butler said. “This is the main factor affecting job growth as employers across the state continue to struggle to fill vacant positions.”

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Democrats release their own congressional map ahead of special session

ATLANTA – The Georgia House and Senate Democratic caucuses Thursday released their own proposed congressional map ahead of the special legislative session starting Nov. 3.  

The Democrats’ map follows a congressional map the Republican-controlled state Senate put out back in September. With the GOP holding majorities in both the state House and Senate, the Democratic map isn’t likely to get serious consideration.

“Georgia has changed significantly over the last decade, and our proposed congressional map reflects that growth,” said U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Columbus. Georgia voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around, and this map guarantees that.” 

Democrats said their map provides a fair opportunity for voters of color in Georgia to elect representatives of their choice, as minorities make up a majority of the residents in six of the 14 districts (Districts 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, and 13).  

“The proposal also fairly represents the partisan makeup of Georgia’s evenly divided electorate, with seven districts that lean Democratic and seven districts that lean Republican,” the Georgia Democratic Party said in a news release. “Additionally, with seven districts centered within metro Atlanta, this proposal rightly acknowledges that more than half of all Georgians live in metro Atlanta, which has driven more than two-thirds of Georgia’s population growth over the last decade.”

View the Democrats’ proposed map here. 

“As we crafted this proposed map, we wanted to ensure that it takes into account population trends within Georgia, reflects the will of Georgia voters at the ballot box, and allows voters of color an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain.  

The congressional map being proposed by the state Senate would increase the size of districts in rural South Georgia to reflect losses in population during the last decade. The plan also targets Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, by shifting portions of the 6th Congressional District she represents into heavily Republican areas. 

The Republican map was overseen by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and state Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, who chairs the Senate Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee.  

“This map not only meets principles of redistricting, but we are proud to present a map that regardless of political party, Georgians can be proud of,” Duncan said when the map was released. “Ensuring that any maps we produce are fair, compact, and keep communities of interest together will continue to be of upmost importance.” 

The General Assembly currently has an online portal in which people can comment on the proposed Senate map.  

Access the online portal here

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation. 

Georgia couple continues to sue Snapchat for catastrophic car crash

ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday in a case where a metro Atlanta couple is blaming a social media app for a catastrophic car crash.  

In 2015, Christal McGee, then 19, was using Snapchat’s speed filter to photograph herself driving at a high speed. McGee was using the app’s speed filter to shoot a selfie when she crashed into another vehicle driven by Wentworth Maynard, who suffered serious injuries. The crash happened in Spalding County around 10:15 pm. Maynard spent weeks in a local hospital, suffering from traumatic brain injuries. 

Maynard and his wife have since been seeking damages from the California-based social media app, arguing the app tempted McGee to speed.

“The family would like Snapchat to take the speed filter down immediately so no other family will have to go through what they’re going through,” the Maynards’ attorney told ABC News in 2016. The speed filter feature is still available on the Snapchat app. 

Recently, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld a trial judge’s dismissal of the case. Presiding Judge Sara Doyle wrote Snapchat could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

“Based on the facts of this case, the allegedly negligent design claim does not fall within Snapchat’s duty of care to the plaintiffs,” Doyle wrote.

The lawsuit had already been tossed once, only to be revived by the appellate court two years ago. 

“Snapchat should have known the filter would be used in this type of incident,” said Naveen Ramachandrappa, the Maynards’ attorney. “There was a Change.org petition that existed prior to this crash to remove this filter. At the time of the crash, Snapchat had that knowledge.” 

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice David Nahmias said companies have to design their products to be reasonably safe.  

“I have Leggos all over my house, and it’s known that if you step on a Leggo or slip on one, it will do damage,” said Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren. “So does that mean they will change the product? What will the company do for me?” 

“Full face masks that are commonly used around Halloween are sometimes used in robberies,” added Justice Charles Bethel. “Do the manufacturers of those masks owe a duty to the general public with respect to robberies?” 

“In terms of risk liability, I believe they do,” Ramachandrappa said. 

“There are absolutely no allegations that any accidents have been caused using the speed filter,” John Major, an attorney representing Snapchat, told the court.  

Snapchat allows people to take temporary photos and videos and share them. One of its speed filters is a speedometer that shows the speed at which the user is moving. According to an affidavit, McGee was using the filter to create an image showing she was driving more than 100 miles per hour. 

The Maynards claim Snapchat is liable because it knew that users could use the application in a way that would distract them from obeying traffic laws and that the speed filter encouraged excessive speeding. They argue Shapchat should remove the filter under the federal Communications Decency Act, which the Georgia Court of Appeals denied.  

The Maynards allege that Snapchat’s design contains an inherent incentive to engage in risky behavior. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia high school graduation rate holds steady

State School Superintendent Richard Woods (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Georgia’s high-school graduation rate remained steady this year despite the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Peach State posted a graduation rate of 83.7% for the 2020-2021 school term, down slightly from the 83.8% rate achieved during the previous term, the Georgia Department of Education reported Thursday.

COVID-19 forced school districts to make a series of adjustments during the last school year, with some resorting to virtual instruction for long periods but others able to get students back into their classrooms by exercising safety precautions included mask wearing and social distancing.

“Given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am pleased to see Georgia’s graduation rate holding steady,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said.

“Combined with the class of 2021’s increases in ACT and SAT scores, this is an encouraging indicator about the work being done in public schools. Teachers and students have continued to succeed in the face of challenging circumstances.”

High-school graduation rates have risen steadily during the past decade. This year’s rate marked an increase of 14% over the class of 2012.

Meanwhile, two Georgia high schools – Berrien Academy Performance Learning Center and Clarkston High School – have been taken off a federal list of schools targeted for low graduation rates.

“An exit from CSI (Comprehensive Support and Improvement) status means a school has done hard work that produced measurable improvements for their students,” Woods said.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Rising transportation tax revenues show Georgians back to driving, traveling

Georgia Commissioner of Transportation Russell McMurry

ATLANTA – With the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Georgia steadily declining, more and more Georgians are driving and traveling.

That encouraging trend is showing up in monthly tax collections reported by the state Department of Transportation.

The DOT collected $174 million in motor fuels tax revenue last month, state Commissioner of Transportation Russell McMurry told members of the State Transportation Board Thursday. That represents a 9.1% increase over September of last year.

During the first quarter of the current fiscal year, the agency collected $558.4 million in motor fuel taxes, a 9.4% increase over July, August and September 2020.

Revenues from the state tax on gasoline and other motor fuels plummeted when the coronavirus pandemic first struck Georgia in March of last year but were starting to recover by August 2020.

Today, tax collections are not only up over last year at this time but are even exceeding pre-pandemic levels, McMurry said Thursday. In fact, the last three months saw an increase in motor fuel revenue of $39.4 million over July, August and September 2019, well before the pandemic.

“People are out and about,” McMurry said. “These are positive signs.”

The numbers on the state’s hotel-motel tax are even more dramatic, evidence that people cooped up during the pandemic have resumed taking trips.

The DOT saw an increase of 37.5% in hotel tax revenue last month compared to September of last year and a whopping 50.3% rise in tax collections during the July, August and September quarter over those same months during the last fiscal year.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.