A lot of job growth in the late fall is in logistics, the handling and delivery of packages for the holidays. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Georgia job growth solid, worries nibble at the edges

With worries about interest rates and trade wars so far nibbling only at the edges of growth, the Georgia economy continued to add jobs in November as state unemployment hit the lowest rate since 2001.

The state added 4,500 jobs during the month as the unemployment rate edged down from 3.6 percent in October to 3.5 percent in November, according to a report Thursday from the Georgia Department of Labor.

With the state in its ninth consecutive year of job expansion, Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner, touted the growth as a continuation in that long, positive trajectory.

Georgia has added 99,000 jobs in the past 12 months, he said. “As we approach the end of 2018, it’s great to see so much progress.”

Hiring this year has thus far been stronger than either of the previous two years with growth in a range of sectors across the income spectrum, Butler said:

— Logistics and retail, a lower-paying sector: 28,000 jobs.

Construction, typically solid, blue-collar work: 18,200 jobs.

— Corporate and business services, typically higher paying: 19,800 jobs.

For months worries have mounted that the long expansion might be reaching its end and the recent volatility in the stock market seems to underscore that fear. A range of factors are blamed for the Dow Jones roller-coaster, but every time stocks drop sharply, analysts wonder if the market is forecasting a recession in coming months.

And Georgia’s vulnerability to a downturn seems clear.

With so much of the state’s economy dependent on trade, any cutbacks in global business are a concern. Moreover, the Federal Reserve’s hikes in interest rates has made borrowing money more expensive for both consumers and companies.

On the consumer side, home sales depend partly on mortgage rates. For business, expansion and hiring generally depend on the ability to borrow.

In recent months, home sales have indeed been falling. And last month, the number of new jobless claims – a result of layoffs – in Georgia rose 9 percent from October to a level 21 percent above a year ago.

Moreover, the dip in the unemployment rate was partly because the number of people in the labor force fell – when workers are not actively searching for a job, they are not counted as officially unemployed.

But the labor force has grown during the past year and November was the 13th of the past 14 months with job growth, so Butler discounted the cautionary numbers as potentially misleading.

“There are a number of factors, some seasonal, that make the numbers fluctuate month to month,” Butler said. “It’s more important to watch the trends for the long term to understand what’s really going on. And, the long-term trends look positive for Georgia.”

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