Government jobs grow despite cuts

Despite months of falling tax receipts and announced teacher layoffs, Georgia added 7,000 government jobs during the last year, according to Labor Department statistics requested by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The federal government, and the military in particular, accounted for many of the new jobs. Yet state government also expanded, primarily due to an increase in public college and university jobs, the numbers show.

Local governments across the state shed 3,300 jobs, though school systems added an extra 100 teachers statewide.

Government jobs have blunted the recession’s effect on the state. Georgia's unemployment rate dipped in July to 9.9 percent from 10 percent the month before, due largely to frustrated job seekers who simply quit looking for work, the state Labor Department reported Thursday.

Local, state and federal workers fill 663,400 jobs across Georgia, or 17.4 percent of all non-farm employment in the state. Four years ago, government jobs comprised only 15.5 percent of all jobs.

The promise of steady government work drew 1,500 job seekers to a Decatur job fair recently. DeKalb County wants to fill 137 positions including police officers, building code enforcers, garbage men, probation officers and property appraisers. Another fair is planned for mid-September.

“I’m looking for something that has some stability and I figure government jobs are stable,” said Viola Hardy, an unemployed human-resources director who filled out applications and dropped off resumes at the Maloof Auditorium in Decatur last week.

In all, Georgia notched a 1.1 percent increase in government jobs over the last year. The federal government added 7,300 jobs since July 2009, a 7.3 percent uptick. Meanwhile, the private sector continues to shuck jobs in Georgia with a net loss of 37,400 slots since July 2009.

Credit the Defense Department for many of Georgia’s new federal jobs. The Pentagon’s reorganization of bases nationwide, and a rise in military and veterans’ hospital workers, added 2,000 federal jobs in Georgia, according to the labor department analysis.

Most federal census jobs, which provided a short-term job boost earlier this year, have since disappeared.

Higher education helped buffer state government job losses. Amid rising enrollments, Georgia has added 10,400 public college and university workers -- a 14.3 percent increase -- since July 2009.

County and city governments lopped 3,300 jobs off payrolls the last year, though fears of widespread teacher layoffs -- trumpeted in headlines across Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties -- proved unfounded. Local school systems actually added 100 jobs, net, across Georgia.

The resiliency of public sector employment comes despite the steep drop in tax collections by local and state governments since the recession began in December 2008.

Yet federal job-saving money, and an abhorrence by politicians to cut services visible to voters, have buffered public-sector employees.

“Police officers will always have crime. Firemen will always have fires,” said David James, an unemployed trucker and warehouseman from McDonough who sought a code enforcement job at the DeKalb fair. “Agencies like that are recession-resistant and won’t drop off like the private sector.”

After announcing last spring that DeKalb needed to trim 600 jobs due to lower tax receipts, county officials now say they went too far after 800 hundred employees took early retirement.

DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis said that once key jobs are re-filled, the 8,000-employee county still will end up with a net job loss of 600 positions.

“Certainly, every government throughout the nation is facing revenue shortfalls (and) at the end of the day we’ll have a smaller, more efficient operation,” he said during the job fair. “But today is about finding opportunity in a difficult situation.”

DeKalb’s employment dance was mirrored in Cobb, Fulton and other counties that first warned of drastic job cuts this year. Fulton, which announced 1,000 county-wide layoffs in March, ended up eliminating 250 teacher positions. Cobb initially targeted 700 teachers, but lopped off only 100.

“Last spring, when school systems saw the dark clouds, budget-wise, there was speculation that as many as 3,000 would be laid off in the metro area and as many as 9,000 across the state,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the 80,000-member Professional Association of Georgia Educators. “The horrors we feared really didn’t manifest themselves. Most systems hung on to most of their teachers.”

Callahan credits federal stimulus money for saving jobs. Georgia had received more than $2 billion from Washington through the first quarter of this year, money that covered teacher salaries, health care and other state and local programs.

Government job growth “surprises me because my general perception is that, due to the economy, tax revenues are down and jobs are being eliminated,” said Roy Baker, 59, a former Georgia Power lineman who sought a building inspector job at the DeKalb fair. “But it’s encouraging that we’re treading water and not drowning.”

Economists expect unemployment levels to remain high through 2010. Furloughs and pay freezes will remain the norm for many government workers. Not until the private sector begins re-hiring will the overall job picture brighten.

Yet the outlook for Georgia government workers is already looking up. Washington approved another stimulus package last week that could pump $550 million into state and local coffers to keep or add thousands of teachers and other jobs in Georgia. Some of that money could fund programs that involve private hiring as well.

And, for the second consecutive month, state tax receipts rose in July.

James, 42, who got laid off in January 2009, isn’t convinced an uptick in government revenue and jobs translates into an improving economy.

“I hear the numbers, listen to the news on TV and read the paper, but on a personal level I haven’t seen things getting better,” he said Thursday. “I haven’t noticed a huge change or even a slight change in our economy.”

Government jobs in Georgia

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As a percentage of all jobs





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Source: Georgia Labor Dept.