Georgia’s jobless rate dips amid stronger job growth

Georgia’s unemployment rate dipped for the third straight month in April with robust job growth offering further evidence of the state’s economic recovery.

The state’s jobless rate has declined, or stayed flat, every month since July 2011, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. It fell to 8.2 percent in April, from 8.4 percent the month before.

The job market still has a long way to go to return to pre-recession levels.

In December 2007, when the recession began and unemployment stood at 5.1 percent, 4.6 million Georgians had jobs. Last month, 4.4 million did — an exceptionally low number given the state’s population growth the last six years.

It will take 40 months, at current job-creation levels, before Georgia returns to the halcyon, pre-recession days of what was considered full employment. In essence, Georgia will have suffered “a lost decade” of job growth.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to 5.1 percent — we may see full employment as a higher number, maybe 5.5 percent,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Thursday. “But right now we keep heading in the right direction. Could we be going faster? No doubt.”

Not since December 2008 has Georgia’s unemployment rate been so low. A year ago, in fact, the rate registered 9.1 percent. The state has added 70,000 jobs since last April, mainly in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, education, health care and transportation. Local, state and federal agencies lopped off 10,500 jobs since April 2012.

By late 2009, Georgia had lost 340,000 jobs, according to Labor Department statistics. Since then, the state has recouped about half of those jobs.

“The good news is Georgia’s employment is growing and at a rate that exceeds the national average,” said University of Georgia economist Jeff Humphreys. “The bad news is that it will be 2016 until we replace all the jobs lost.

“Georgia was hit harder than the nation and we have more lost jobs to replace. Plus, in the initial couple of years of the recovery, Georgia underperformed the nation largely because of the housing bust.”

Georgia companies have hired an average of 4,718 people each month since April 2012.

A 5.1 percent unemployment rate may be unattainable in the forseeable future, economists say. Georgia’s economy isn’t expected to roar as it did during the high-tech boom of the early 2000s and the housing boom of the mid-2000s. Government layoffs will likely continue. Streamlined corporations are wary of adding employment, health care and retirement costs.

And the so-called labor force participation rate, which counts the number of employed people and those looking for work, is expected to grow. Currently, 63.8 percent of Georgians are in the labor force, down from 68.1 percent in December 2007.

An expanded labor force is double-edged statistically, propping up the unemployment rate by adding thousands of job seekers to the market.

“I am not at all confident about the economy,” said Bob Crittenden, an unemployed marketing professional from Tucker. “You might be seeing more low-level offers, in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, but I don’t see many offers for senior directors or vice-president level positions. And most companies, if you’ve been out of work for more than six months, forget it.”

Those without jobs for more than 26 weeks comprise nearly half of Georgia’s unemployed. The number of long-term unemployed, though, has slowly declined each of the last 12 months, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

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