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Georgia adds jobs, unemployment at 17-year low

The state started the second half of the year with a solid month of hiring as the economy added 5,300 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to its lowest level since 2001.

Georgia’s jobless rate slipped from 4.1 percent in June to 3.9 percent in July as corporate hiring powered growth, as the sector’s strong hiring made up for seasonal weaknesses in hiring for manufacturing and schools, according to the labor department.

Although hiring slowed through 2017, this year has seen an increase.

The state has added 51,400 jobs this year and 83,200 since July of last year, according to Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner. “Georgia, like the nation, is in a period of continued economic growth.”

And while economists and business experts have warned that the state is vulnerable to the tariff battles launched by the Trump administration, if there is any damage to the economy, it doesn’t show.

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In fact, the logistics and retail sectors have added more jobs than any of the others, Butler said.

Additionally, the past 12 months has seen growth of more than 10,000 jobs each in construction, healthcare, leisure and hospitality, as well as the corporate sector.

The lowest previous jobless rate in Georgia was 3.4 percent, reached in late 2000 at the end of a very long, strong expansion. That rate inched up through 2001 as the economy slipped into a recession. While the experts have been publicly speculating about an end to the current expansion, there have thus far been no signs of serious trouble.

Yet in the midst of the upbeat numbers are some puzzles.

For example, although the number of unemployed Georgians has decreased, more than 200,000 are still without work and looking for jobs, according to the Labor Department.

Of those, about 52,000 have been in the job hunt for more than six months.

That is a sign of something amiss structurally. Perhaps, those people simply do not have the right skills to match the needs of employers. Or perhaps companies have a bias against those people who have been out of work a while.

Either way, the pool of jobseekers co-exists with complaints from companies that they cannot find the people they need.

That contradiction has spurred efforts to offer training to jobseekers and connections to employers. For instance, Atlanta CareerRise, which coordinates training programs and tries to link jobseekers with companies.

The group has worked with 750 people so far and hopes to “graduate” 150 more this year, said Cinda Herndon-King, the director.

One troubling piece of recent job reports is the fact that wages don’t seem to be rising as fast as they should in a market where labor is really scarce. That might mean that the unemployment rate is deceptive — there are more people looking for work than are being counted.

Herndon-King says that many people in Georgia face obstacles to working: childcare responsibilities or arrest records, for example. Many other would-be workers have no car – or one that is unreliable.

“We have people who commute two hours by bus for $10-an-hour jobs,” she said.

If those people get discouraged and stop looking for work, they are no longer counted as part of the official unemployment rate.

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