Atlanta’s unemployment rate up in July

Metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate ticked up in July as solid hiring was accompanied by a much larger rush of hopeful jobseekers, the Georgia Labor Department announced Thursday.

The jobless rate rose from 6.0 percent to 6.1 percent during the month.

But the jobless rate has fallen from 7.6 percent a year ago while adding 85,000 jobs, and that kind of growth should continue, according to Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University.

Speaking Thursday during a presentation at the center’s quarterly conference, Dhawan said the jobless rate should decline through the next several years, falling below 5 percent in 2017.

However, growth slowed in the first half of this year, so 2015 will end with an addition of about 62,400 jobs. The next two years will post similar numbers, he said.

“Georgia job gains are leveling off.”

Statewide, employment will gain 82,900 jobs this year and 87,500 jobs in 2016, he said.

The past week’s roller coaster ride on Wall Street caught everyone’s attention, but by itself, it has limited direct impact on the economy. More troublesome was the apparent cause of the gyrations: uncertainty about the Chinese economy.

If China falls badly, it could roil a series of emerging markets and distort commodity prices worldwide, which in turn could shake the American consumer, he said. “That is the route that I’m worried about.”

That worry might delay the apparent plan of the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates next months. While low rates are good for buyers, Dhawan said that the first move might spur “fence-sitters” to make the purchase they have been procrastinating.

Housing permits in metro Atlanta are up 25 percent from a year ago and the rate of increases will slow next year, he said: Permits will increase 9 percent.

According to Thursday’s report from the Labor Department, the region added 3,600 jobs – the most jobs added during July since 1996, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

During the past three years, Atlanta has lost an average of 9,000 jobs from June to July, said Mark Butler, state labor commissioner.

But the official unemployment rate is based on the labor force – the number of people with jobs plus those who are looking for work — and the labor force rose by 20,584.

A year ago, the jobless rate was 7.6 percent. The decline since then reflects the addition of 85,000 jobs – the second-best August-to-July stretch of job creation in the past 10 years.

Of course, that includes a devastating recession and a long struggle to recover. Of the past 91 months, metro Atlanta’s jobless rate has been below the national average in only one. It remains significantly above the national rate of 5.3 percent.

Atlanta’s job losses were so steep that only after five years of steady growth has metro Atlanta finally edged above its pre-recession peak for the number of people employed. And the region still has more than 170,000 people out of work and searching for a job.

Paradoxically, Atlanta has 100,000 more jobs than before the recession – but that seems a sign that many of the jobs added have been low-paying or part-time work so that many people need more than one paycheck. Yet many are also good-paying jobs, especially among the region’s surging technology firms.

With high-tech expansion, corporate re-locations and the construction of two massive sports stadiums, metro Atlanta continues to be the core of the state’s recovery, accounting for the lion’s share of new jobs.

Among the sectors adding jobs during the past 12 months were professional and business services, trade, transportation and warehousing, leisure and hospitality, construction and financial activities.

Government has pulled in two directions. Overall, there has been hiring, but local government has pulled back – especially during the summer when school-related employment typically drops.

There were slightly more layoffs last month than in June, as measured by claims for unemployment insurance. But compared to July of last year, claims were down by 13.6 percent.

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