Eric Rogers, owner of a Metal Supermarket franchise near the airport, said when he hired workers, he had trouble finding qualified applicants, so he looked for people with a good attitude that he could train.

Georgia lost 14,900 jobs in April as some workers left labor force

Monthly report shows largest job decline for April since 2009

ED. NOTE: Story was written using data originally reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed Georgia with a modest gain of jobs in March. The BLS has since revised that data to show a small job loss in March. This story has been modified to reflect the updated information. 

Georgia’s economy had a worse-than-usual April, shedding 14,900 jobs, the state’s Department of Labor reported Thursday.

That represents the largest April job loss since 2009, the depths of the Great Recession, when unemployment rates were climbing into double digits. It also diverges from a strong national report for April, when the U.S. jobless rate fell to a half-century low.

Thirty days of data don’t make a trend. Georgia had a strong jobs report in January, when U.S. payroll numbers were weak. April also is often a soft month for hiring, and 14,900 jobs is a tiny fraction of the state’s 5.1 million-person workforce.

“You see this happen from time to time. Monthly numbers fluctuate. But all the trends look good,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

Still, it’s the latest sign that several years of strong jobs growth here may be cresting. The number of people in Georgia’s workforce also dipped in March and the economy lost 700 jobs, according to revised data issued late this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

The BLS had first reported that the local economy added a modest number of jobs.

Nationally there also are signs that the economy might be slowing after a stronger-than-expected first quarter, when the gross domestic product surged more than 3%. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s running estimate on Thursday ratcheted down its prediction of U.S. growth for the current quarter to an anemic 1.1%. Fannie Mae, the $22 billion-a-year finance company, also issued a forecast of lower growth.

Georgia’s unemployment rate dipped from 3.9% in March to 3.8% in April, but the dip came for the wrong reason: Roughly 10,000 people left the labor force. And if you are not actively looking for a job, you are not counted as officially unemployed.

“The low unemployment rate, while a nice statistic, is not as encouraging as it seems,” said Brad Dillman, chief economist at Cortland, an Atlanta-based real estate developer. “There’s been little meaningful gain in wages.”

Since the worst of the recession, the Georgia economy has grown by 700,000 jobs, the jobless rate has dropped from a high of 10.6% and the number of unemployed has fallen from half a million to about 195,000, the labor department said.

In the past 12 months, Georgia has added 69,700 jobs, a mix of blue- and white-collar work:

— The education and healthcare sector expanded by 18,900 jobs.

— The corporate sector added 14,700 jobs.

— Leisure and hospitality expanded by 13,500 jobs.

This year started strong, so the number of jobs in Georgia is still up for 2019, but just barely.

The apparent end to labor force growth could be just a brief pause. But it might be a sign that after nine years the expansion is running out of steam.

The next few months could bring more clarity. Georgia almost always adds jobs from May through August. It has not lost jobs in May since 2009, and it has not lost jobs in three consecutive months since 2009.

Even many employers that are hiring say that, while they still get applications for job openings, they are seeing fewer qualified candidates.

Franchise owner Eric Rogers needed three workers when he opened a Metal Supermarkets store in South Atlanta last month. The 90-store chain sells metals, supplies and provides custom cutting services.

Rogers wanted one driver who would do warehouse work and two employees to deal with customers, and listed the jobs on an online site. “I got more than 400 hits, and no one fit the bill,” he said.

So he shifted gears, hiring people whose attitude he liked even if they lacked experience. “I started looking at trainability and personality.”

He’s just made an offer to a fourth person. “Business right now is good — better than I was hoping for,” Rogers said.

The government will release April employment numbers for Atlanta on May 23.

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