Georgia jobless rate decline stalls in March

The state jobless rate didn't budge in March and remains higher than the nation's.
The state jobless rate didn't budge in March and remains higher than the nation's.

Credit: AJC file

Credit: AJC file

The state’s jobless rate held steady at 6.3 percent in March, ending a streak of eight straight monthly declines.

Layoffs ticked up and the number of jobs declined slightly, the state labor department said Thursday. Still, the Georgia economy has added 127,000 jobs during the past year, while the unemployment rate fell a full point.

“We have seen considerable improvement,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

The state rate, however, remains well above the national average of 5.5 percent. At one point last year, Georgia had the nation’s highest rate, but the state had moved up to 38th as of February.

The state’s largest economic engine — Atlanta — still is not at full speed, said Alex Carrick, chief economist for CMD Construction, a national research firm.

“I look at the list of the top 50 cities and their unemployment rates,” he said. “It is almost like Atlanta is ringed by other markets doing better … Atlanta is in there, but not as solidly as the others.”

Nearly six years after the official end of the recession – and despite population growth – Georgia still has more people unemployed, fewer people working and a higher unemployment rate than in 2007.

Slightly more than 300,000 Georgians are officially unemployed. Based on surveys, that figure includes people actively seeking work but not those who’ve grown discouraged, gone back to school, retired or for other reasons dropped out of the labor market.

Gerald Harris, 59, is looking for work as a forklift driver after losing his job a few weeks ago. His search for a paycheck has some urgency.

Bills to pay

“I’ve got to have one by the end of this month,” he said. “I am trying to get unemployment (benefits) so I can get my bills paid.”

The economy is always adding and shedding jobs. Which number is greater determines whether times are good or bad. In March, the losses were slightly larger, with cuts in leisure and hospitality, construction and manufacturing. Gains came mostly in health care, retail and financial services.

About 30,000 Georgians filed new claims for unemployment insurance in March, roughly half of them in Atlanta. That number roughly parallels layoffs.

Kim Pittman, 37, was at the Toco Hill offices of the Labor Department Thursday morning with her 9-month-old son, applying for unemployment benefits and researching job options. She resigned her job as a deputy with the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Department after a dispute.

“I am still looking for police work, but I also have a lot of experience doing customer service work,” she said. “I have been working since I was 18 and I have never been in this position. I am nervous about it, but I still have faith I will find something soon.”

Among the jobless, about 42 percent have been looking for six months or more – down from the post-recession peaks, but still historically high. National surveys show many long-term jobless are older workers. They are are less likely to lose their jobs, but more likely to struggle finding another one if they do.

“There is an unwritten bias against people who are over 50 years old,” said Stan Steingold, 55, of Toco Hill. “And the HR personnel have ways of deciphering your resume to see how old you are.”

Friends with jobs

Still, the job market is healthier, he said.

“Two years ago, I had four or five personal friends who out of work. They were professionals in architecture, I.T., engineering. Today, none of them are unemployed.”

Steingold still is, though. An engineer, he lost his sales job six months ago in a shake-up of his California-based company, itself a subsidiary of a Taiwan firm.

“I am really, really hopeful. The jobs are out there.”

Age is not an issue for Mandy Warren, 37, of Chamblee. After being let go by a large chain she finds it hard to regain traction in retail. Like many 21st century job seekers, she is frustrated by high-tech vetting of applications.

“I’ve never been laid off before,” she said. “I am not a big fan of the impersonal, online application process. They don’t know anything about who you are.”

Because Georgia’s unemployment benefits are modest – and briefer than they used to be — she is impatient.

“If it weren’t for unemployment and food stamps, I’d be up that creek. I’m not even getting the maximum and it’s not much to live on.”

She would like to return to retail, Warren said, “but I’m looking for anything. I am not picky.”