Editorial: Grim unemployment numbers buttressed by news of hope

The area on Wednesday received good economic news as the Chinese floorcovering company Huali Floors announced plans to locate its first U.S. manufacturing operation in Murray County, bringing with it 315 jobs. The business plans to start hiring workers in June, and be up and running between October and December of this year.

But the optimistic vibes didn't last long.

Just a day later, the Georgia Department of Labor released the state's April unemployment numbers, and it wasn't pretty -- especially for us. The jobless rate for the Dalton Area, which is Murray and Whitfield counties, skyrocketed to 20.6%. The area's unemployment rate in March was 5.2%; in April 2019 it was 4.1%. The Dalton Area's April jobless rate set an all-time high.

The national jobless rate in April was 14.7% while the statewide unemployment rate was 11.9%.

Our area had the dubious distinction of leading the state in unemployment among all Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Among Georgia counties for last month, Whitfield County had the highest unemployment rate at 20.6%, followed by Murray County at 20.1%, South Georgia's Clay County at 18.1%, neighboring Chattooga County at 17.1% and coastal Georgia's Glynn County at 17%.

A dramatic increase in our employment rate wasn't unexpected. Across the country, job cuts, layoffs and furloughs have proliferated as the effects of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to wreck the global economy. Our part of the world, which is inextricably linked to the floorcovering industry, has been hit especially hard. Several major floorcovering companies voluntarily shut down manufacturing plants in hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Many of our family members, friends and neighbors are out of work. They're hurting financially. They're hurting emotionally. Fortunately for us, our community is again stepping up to help. Over the past few months, churches, nonprofits and other organizations have been at the forefront of relief by distributing food and other supplies.

Just this past Wednesday, the Georgia Northwestern Technical College and the Northwest Georgia College & Career Academy hosted a mobile food pantry, which provided food and other items to hundreds of people. The event was a partnership among Georgia Northwestern Technical College, the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia and the Northwest Georgia Branch of the Chattanooga Area Food Bank to serve students of Georgia Northwestern Technical College, in addition to families whose children are enrolled in Head Start programs in Whitfield and Murray counties.

While we navigate through this COVID-19 world and hope for better times, we are fortunate to have so many people helping others.

Keep up the good work.

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