Unemployment numbers released this week by the Georgia Department of Labor show positive signs for the economy.

Initial unemployment insurance (UI) claims in Douglas County were at 15,082 in May, a drop of 28% from the 20,987 filed in April. Statewide, UI claims were at 836,060 in May, down 38% from the 1,353,921 in April.

The unemployment rates for Douglas County and Georgia also fell from April to May. The unemployment rate in Douglas went from 12.7% in April to 11.1% in May, while statewide the jobless rate dropped from 12.6% in April to 9.7% in May.

“These are very encouraging numbers,” said Dr. Hilde Patron Boenheim, a professor of economics at the University of West Georgia who also serves as director of the school’s Center for Business and Economics Research. “They are still much higher than where we were a year ago — 20,574 for the state and 267 for the county — but they show movement in the right direction.”

Boenheim added other labor statistics that show the economy is improving include:

• An increase in the labor force, or number of individuals available for work, which increased from 69,320 to 70,190 in Douglas County.

• The number of people employed, which was up from 60,452 in April to 62,407 in May.

• The number of unemployed individuals in the county dropped from 8,778 to 7,783 between April and May.

“All these numbers show a labor market on the rebound,” Boenheim said.

The improving jobs numbers follow several months of highly volatile economic performance statistics. After posting the lowest unemployment rate in Georgia history early this year, the business lockdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic forced the state’s jobless rate to a record high.

As the economic downturn deepened, the state labor department processed more than 2.7 million initial unemployment claims during a 14-week period beginning in mid-March, more than during the last seven years combined.

More than 1 million were determined to be valid, and 91% of those claims have been paid.

Since mid-March, the most initial claims by far — 677,982 — have come from the accommodation and food services job sector. The health and social assistance sector has accounted for 322,892 claims, followed closely by retail trade with 308,934 claims.

“These positive indicators are promising for Georgia’s job market,” state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said. “I believe we are beginning to stabilize our economy, allowing Georgians to again focus on employment and spending.”

Boenheim said the improving unemployment numbers correlate with people getting back to work as shelter-in-place orders were relaxed around the first of May.

“Additionally, driving around town, we see more traffic, we see more people going to stores and restaurants, spending money, visiting their doctors and dentists, and getting somewhat back to normal,” she said.

Whether that increase in economic activity continues remains to be seen. Georgia is one of several states seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Over the seven days from June 13-20, Georgia averaged 1,073 new daily cases. The previous peak in daily cases had been 857 set on April 13.

Boenheim said the surge in new cases of the coronavirus is concerning.

“There is always a danger that resurgence of the virus will force us to shut down the economy again,” she said. “That is a risk that we are facing. However, if people in our state maintain social distancing rules, wear masks or face coverings, and follow the CDC health and hygiene guidelines so that we are able to halt the spread of the virus, the economy should continue on a positive trend.”