Georgia’s unemployment rate dipped to 8.5 percent last month — the lowest rate in nearly four years — as truckers, engineers, lawyers and factory workers found work, particularly in metro Atlanta.
While the state jobless rate remains stubbornly higher than the national average of 7.7 percent, unemployed Georgians can take some solace that, finally, employers are hiring more and firing less. Georgia added 61,900 jobs over the last year, handily outpacing the job-growth predictions of some of the state’s most respected economists.
And the breadth of the jobs recovery is significant considering the depth of the Great Recession and its continued impact on consumer confidence and corporate spending.
The recession had already ended by November 2010, for example, but the unemployment rate stood at 10.5 percent. It was 9.5 percent last November.
At this rate, Georgia’s jobless rate could very well be 7.5 percent next November.
“Overall, the job numbers are still fairly strong, and we should continue to see the rate go down,” Mark Butler, commissioner of the state labor department, said Thursday. “It goes to show that a lot of companies in Georgia that have survived this recession are looking to expand their operations and willing to take a risk.”
Bright Light Systems, an energy-efficient lighting company in Cumming, is adding four white collar jobs January 1. Its blue-collar workforce should grow by 30 within three years. The company, which mounts high wattage lights atop tall poles, will soon move into 5,000 square feet of leased office-manufacturing space in Alpharetta.
But there is cause for concern, said CEO Brad Lurie.
“Everybody was so concerned about the elections in November. Now, it’s all about the fiscal cliff. There isn’t a total feeling of confidence by any means,” he said. “I’m very optimistic, but also cautiously optimistic.”
Caution remains the buzzword for Georgia companies. Flush with cash, they worry about rising taxes, health-care costs and environmental regulations. But companies are hiring, albeit tepidly, across virtually every job sector.
The professional and business services category — lawyers, accountants, engineers, administrators — added 20,100 positions between November 2011 and November 2012, according to the labor department. Warehouses and trucking companies padded payrolls by 15,800 positions.
Georgia’s manufacturing industry has lost 100,000 jobs the last decade. But it added 12,200 positions within the last year.
“The manufacturing base is becoming more diverse in Georgia. It had been disproportionately aligned with the (housing) industry, particularly carpets and textiles,” said Roy Bowen, president of the Georgia Association of Manufacturers. “A lot of that diversity has developed in the automotive, medical device and pharmaceutical industries. And the carpet industry is starting to recover.”
Economist Jeff Humphreys at the University of Georgia singles out good-paying professional and business jobs — Atlanta’s employment strength — as a critical indicator of Georgia’s economy.
“It’s the kind of industry that lives or dies on the overall health of the economy,” Humphreys said. “These companies depend on business from other companies. Growth in this industry is really indicative of how the breadth of the recovery has broadened to encompass a much greater range of companies. It’s an inflection point.”
Humphreys expects Georgia to add 53,000 jobs in 2013. He predicted last year, though, that Georgia would add only 17,900 jobs this year. There’s still a month to go. Georgia State’s Rajeev Dhawan estimated the state would add 26,800 jobs in 2012.
Humphreys doesn’t expect the jobless rate to drop below 8 percent next year.
“Assuming we avoid the fiscal cliff, we’re actually looking for a little bit of an acceleration in job growth next year,” he said. “I still think the rate will be above 8 percent.”
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Two people have been arrested in connection with a Thursday night gun battle that spanned an entire block of Parkway Drive between Ponce de Leon and North avenues, an Atlanta police spokeswoman said Friday.