In a surprise, Georgia unemployment rate rises again

Georgia's unemployment rate ticked up last month, an increase that's sure to jolt the heated race for governor.

The Georgia Department of Labor released figures just before midnight Thursday showing the unemployment rate increased from 7.7 percent in July to 8.1 percent in August. Analysts and Gov. Nathan Deal expected the rate to drop that month as more workers temporarily laid off for the summer were rehired.

The uptick comes at an inopportune time for Deal, who has built his campaign for re-election against Democrat Jason Carter on an optimistic message that Georgia's economy is improving thanks to his pro-business philosophy.

The governor has frequently pointed to the nearly 300,000 private sector jobs created since he took office and said after the last jobs report that the state was "holding its own" in the race for new business. He often notes often how the state's unemployment rate was north of 10 percent before he was elected.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, a Republican, said the rate increase was "somewhat questionable" given job growth and a decrease in layoffs for the month. He said he asked federal labor officials to give Georgia's numbers another look, and that he expected today's numbers to eventually be adjusted. You can find a video of his response below.

Carter, who has long had an education-first message for voters, pivoted his attack this week to focus on the economy. He said at a Wednesday event that Georgia has become the place "where people send their call centers," and often points to last month's report that ranked Georgia's jobless rate as the nation's second-highest.

At a stop in Calhoun early Thursday, the governor stuck to a sunny spin on the economy. He said his tax overhaul package, which included a repeal of the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing, has created thousands of new jobs and helped convince media organizations to name Georgia the top place in the nation to do business.

"Good news is on the way. We are continuing to grow," Deal said. "And we are the number one place in the nation to do business, now by the third media outlet."

He did not take questions, citing a tight schedule, but said he would answer to the media at an afternoon event.

Thursday's data comes as a surprise to many. Analysts expected the jobless rate to drop in August due to seasonal fluctuations, as school bus drivers and private-sector employees who were temporarily laid off during the summer months get rehired. Deal, too, said last month he was confident that the rate would drop in the next report.

The increase comes with a big caveat, as the numbers are often recalculated as more data arrives.

Case in point: The July jobless rate was initially reported as 7.8 percent but was lowered by one-tenth of a percent this month after analysts crunched more jobs numbers. Butler said the July 2013 and August 2013 rates dropped by half a percentage point after more data came in.

"There's no reason to think that that might not happen again," he said.

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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.
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