Georgia's unemployment rate dip fuels debate over economy

Georgia's unemployment rate fell by a sliver in September, a decrease that is sure to be parsed by politicians and pundits ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

The Georgia Department of Labor released figures early Thursday showing the unemployment rate fell to 7.9 percent in September from 8.1 percent in August. It came a month after the surprising increase in Georgia's jobless rate jolted the governor's race and gave the state the highest unemployment rate in the nation.

Gov. Nathan Deal has built his case for re-election against Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter with an optimistic message that Georgia’s economy is steadily improving from the post-Recession pits. After last month's figures were released, Deal blamed "historically faulty" economic data and suggested politics was involved in the uptick.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, a Republican, said Georgia lost about 7,300 jobs in the last month, but was buoyed by fewer layoffs and an increase in public sector gigs. He pointed to figures that show about 80,000 new jobs were added since last September.

"Our impressive over-the-year growth keeps Georgia among the leading states for job creation," said Butler. "And, the growth is in every private sector job category we track, with government being the only sector showing a loss.”

Carter has argued the high jobless rate is a result of Deal's failure to guide Georgia through the stormy post-Recession recovery. He has vowed he would improve the state's economic health by focusing on small-business growth and increasing education funding.

“We lost 15,000 private sector jobs. That’s 15,000 fewer jobs for veterans, for the rest of the middle class that’s struggling to get by. And we’re still dead last in how quickly we are recovering from the recession,” said Carter at a campaign stop in Marietta. “We need a new direction in this state.”

Deal said in an interview later Thursday that he views the downturn as a good sign, but still stuck to his line that the jobless rate is an “outlier that doesn’t match anything else that’s going on in our state.”

“When you see jobs growing at a rate that is higher than the national average for job growth, and when you see unemployment rates dropping, it would seem that would lend itself to a drop in the unemployment rate.”

He pointed to federal statistics that showed Georgia has added about 540,000 jobs during his tenure, which is almost double the 300,000 or so that Deal touts on the campaign trial. And he questioned the integrity of the numbers, like he did last month, just weeks before an election.

“It just appears in some of the states we know that have high job growth rates, like the state of Georgia, have seen their unemployment rates jump up, which doesn’t seem to reconcile itself,” said Deal, adding: “The unemployment rate is a true outlier in this case and it’s not consistent with all the other indications of a growing economy.”

As always, the numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. The jobless figures are often recalculated as more numbers are crunched. And economists endlessly argue about the value and accuracy of the metric.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.