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Labor commissioner to discuss job programs

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

As of January, 10.3 percent of Clayton County's population (13,998 people) was jobless. Next week, Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond will visit the area to talk about what the state is doing to address the problem.

Thurmond, who is coming to the county at the request of the Clayton County Democratic Party, is scheduled to address the community Monday at the Morrow Municipal Complex beginning at 7 p.m.

"It's very timely for him to come considering the state of the economy," said Kevin Thomas, chairman of the Clayton County Democratic Party. Thomas said he believes Thurmond may be able to give residents timely, much-needed economic advice.

"Sometimes to fix things, you have to have a full understanding of what's going on. I think that Michael Thurmond is able to give us more of a realistic picture of where we are. Maybe he can even shed some light on where some of these jobs are," Thomas said.

According to Sam Hall, communications director for the Georgia Department of Labor, statewide unemployment for the month of January was 8.6 percent of Georgians (412,770 people).

"That's the highest record ever recorded in Georgia since records have been kept, and that goes back to 1976," Hall said. He said Thurmond will highlight steps the department is taking to help the unemployed, such as the Georgia Works program, which allows laid-off workers who qualify for unemployment insurance benefits to receive on-site workplace training, and a special training allowance.

"One of the things he would want people in Clayton County to know is yes, that economic times are tough, but they are not hopeless," Hall said. "I'm sure he will talk about the dedication of the Department of Labor to serve our citizens during this unprecedented economic crisis."

Hall said that in response to the downturn in the economy, all 53 of the Department of Labor's career centers around the state are open one hour longer on weekdays. The centers are now open from 7:30 a.m., to 5 p.m. He said department employees have also been working overtime, and on weekends, to process unemployment insurance claims.

"A lot of our employees are working 10-hour days," Hall said. "The time that they file for unemployment insurance, to the time that they actually receive a check, is 11.5 weeks [on average]. That is about a month quicker than the national average."

State Rep. Mike Glanton (D-Jonesboro), who serves as chaplain for the Clayton County Democratic Party, was instrumental in securing Thurmond as a speaker. He said he hopes Thurmond will inform the public about "vocational rehabilitation" programs for older workers needing to learn new skill sets, as well programs to help young people find summer jobs.

"I thought that this would be a perfect opportunity for Commissioner Thurmond to come to Clayton County in light of the fact that Clayton County has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and possibly the nation," Glanton said. "He's probably the person who is in the best position to forecast where we are with the job situation, and where we might be in the next 12 to 18 months. I hope that the results of him coming to Clayton County is that people will leave better informed about their options and [with] a little more confidence."

Hall said Thurmond would work to assuage the fears of residents anxious about the economy.

"People need to maintain hope and stay encouraged, because ultimately, things will get better," Hall said. "I'm confident that is the message he will take to Clayton County."

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On the net:

Georgia Department of Labor: www.dol.state.ga.us