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Georgia jobless rate at 17-year low; trade war a worry

Georgia’s economy had a strong June, adding 14,200 jobs while the unemployment rate slipped to its lowest level in 17 years.

In a sign of strong hiring, the jobless rate is slipped from 4.2 percent in May to 4.1 percent while adding more than 10,000 people to the labor force, according to Georgia Department of Labor.

Since June of last year, the labor force has steadily grown while Georgia added 77,300 jobs, said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner. “Georgia’s labor force and job market are as big as they have ever been, and they continue to grow.”

Hiring has been strongest in construction, where the number of jobs surged 8.8 percent during the past year, he said. “When you see that big of a jump in construction jobs over the year, that points to a strong economy.”

Other, larger sectors have also expanded, especially healthcare and logistics.

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For example, there has been a steady increase in job listings for radiologic technologists, respiratory therapists and dental hygienists, according to Joblift, an online listing company.

The largest single listing is for registered nurses – more than 20,000 in the past year, according to Mason Mitchel, a spokesman for the company.

The state’s economy depends on trade. From the ports to the truckers to the warehouses, logistics now accounts for nearly one of every five Georgia jobs. (AJC photo, Brant Sanderlin) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

In the first half of this year, Georgia’s economy has added 42,000 jobs – more than in the same period of 2017. Meanwhile, the number of claims for new jobless benefits – which are linked to layoffs – last month was down 15 percent from a year ago.

“Georgia has got it going pretty good right now,” said Brad Dillman, chief economist, Cortland Partners, Atlanta-based real estate investment company. “The job market benefits significantly from migration – that has been really important for us.”

The apparent tightness of the labor market has spurred the Federal Reserve Bank to start raising the base interest rate – and that is a concern, Dillman said.

The more it costs to borrow, the less companies and consumers are inclined to invest in new ventures, which puts a drag on growth.

“The biggest fear I have is about monetary policy, because the tightening cycle is almost always followed by recession,” he said.

But there are other dangers, like the current tariff battle, which could roil logistics, experts say.

While many of the jobs are blue-collar positions that pay modestly, logistics has a huge economic presence in Georgia with about 960,000 jobs. That represents roughly one of every five jobs in the state.

“Just look at the Port of Brunswick, which is a major shipping point for autos,” said Thomas Cunningham, chief economist for the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Trade problems are a threat to hiring in other parts of the economy as well, he said. “We are hearing more and more about firms changing their production plans. And homebuilders are really worried about the cost of wood, although they are not facing consequences yet.”

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