Metro Atlanta’s jobless rate jumps

Metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate rose in May to 8.2 percent from 7.6 percent the month before, as scores of school workers left jobs for the summer and new college graduates struggled to find work.

“While that sounds like really bad news, it really wasn’t all bad news,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Thursday. “Most of the reasons for the rate going up had a lot to do with more people entering the workforce. We typically see new graduates and summer job seekers entering the workforce.”

The metro jobless rate has risen every May and June for the last decade.

Not until July, typically, does the rate come back down. University of Georgia economist Jeffrey Humphreys, though, said he expects the rate to move little or even rise slightly the rest of the year and into 2014.

“It’s not because the economy is tanking,” he said. “To the contrary, it’s improving. People are taking notice and getting back into the game.”

More than 26,000 metro Atlantans, college and high school graduates mainly, entered the labor force in May, according to the labor department.

At the same time, nearly 3,000 Atlantans filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance. Most of the newly unemployed worked for educational or food service companies that provide workers for school systems across the region. Unable to find summertime work, many of the low-paid workers go on the dole.

“Some go back and get summer jobs; some take the summer off,” Butler said.

Butler last year denied unemployment benefits to 4,000 bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other seasonal workers, contending they should not be eligible for payments during breaks if teachers and other school system employees are not. That prompted a bureaucratic battle with the U.S. Department of Labor, which demanded the the workers receive benefits. The state announced last April that the workers would receive the benefits after all and authorized $8 million in back payments.

Metro Atlanta accounted for 85 percent of all jobs created statewide in May. Hospitality, transportation and business services industries led the Atlanta job surge.

“So goes Atlanta, so goes Georgia,” Butler said. “Due to the fact that Atlanta has a higher population base, a lot of companies are looking to relocate to Atlanta, or they’re expanding. (And) the hottest place for construction growth is the Atlanta area. That’s very good news not only for Atlanta, but for the entire state.”

After years of huge job losses, Atlanta’s construction industry added 1,200 jobs in May — one-fifth of all construction jobs created during the last year.

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