Unemployment numbers released Thursday showed May's 471 claims were down 24.5 percent from April's 624 filings. The drop also represents a decrease over the year of 149 claims, or 24 percent of the 620 claims filed in May 2010.
State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said that Georgia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.8 percent from April to May. The April rate was first reported at a preliminary 9.9 percent, but was revised. The state's jobless rate was 10 percent in May a year ago.
"Our state's jobless rate has been declining slightly for the past six months," Butler said. "More businesses are slowly beginning to expand their workforce, illustrating a gradual increase of confidence in the economy."
The number of payroll jobs increased 3,400 to 3,834,500 in May, up one-tenth of a percentage point, from 3,831,100 in April. Most of the new jobs were in leisure and hospitality, with smaller increases in retail trade, health care, manufacturing, and construction. However, there are 28,300, or seven-tenths of a percentage point, fewer jobs than in May of last year. Most of the jobs lost over the year were in government, construction, and financial services.
For the third consecutive month, the number of long-term unemployed workers declined. There were 251,800 long-term unemployed Georgians in May, down 3,000, or 1.2 percent, from 254,800 in April. However, the number of long-term unemployed remains 11.6 percent higher than the 225,700 in May of last year. The long-term unemployed account for 54.7 percent of Georgia's 460,172 jobless workers.
Also, 54,843 laid-off workers filed initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in May, an increase of 506, or nine-tenths of a percentage point, from 54,337 in April. Most of the first-time claims were filed in trade, manufacturing, administrative and support services, and construction. But, there was an over-the-year decrease of 3,076 initial claims, or 5.3 percent, from 57,919 filed in May of last year.
May marked the 46th consecutive month Georgia has exceeded the national unemployment rate, which is currently 9.1 percent, up from 9.0 percent in April.
On the national scale, fewer Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, though applications remain above levels consistent with a healthy economy.
Unemployment benefit applications fell 16,000 to a seasonally adjusted 414,000, the second drop in three weeks, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's a positive sign that layoffs are slowing.
Still, applications have been above 400,000 for 10 straight weeks, evidence that the job market is weak compared to earlier this year.
Applications had fallen in February to 375,000, a level that signals sustainable job growth. They stayed below 400,000 for seven of nine weeks. But applications surged in April to 478,000 -- an eight-month high -- and they have declined slowly since then.
The four-week average, a less volatile measure, was unchanged.
The elevated level of applications suggests that companies pulled back on hiring in the face of higher gas and food prices, which have cut into consumer spending. Hiring has slowed sharply since applications rose.
Employers added only 54,000 net new jobs in May, much slower than the average gain of 220,000 per month in the previous three months. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent from 9 percent.
Employers probably added more jobs in June than in May, but less than the 220,000 pace earlier this year, economists said.
The economy needs to generate at least 125,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. At least twice that many are needed to bring down the unemployment rate.
-- The Associated Press contributed to this story.