Six years after the economy stopped bleeding jobs, Georgia businesses continue to hire. The expansion has been tepid, by comparison with some previous post-recession periods, yet the recovery has been extended.

Sounding smart about jobs: six things to know today

Georgia’s unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent in September from 4.9 percent in August, the state labor department said Thursday.

That rate typically holds steady or declines in September.

But economists often say the unemployment rate can be misleading. And when they do, they cite reports like this one: the rate rose because so many people were leaping into the labor force in search of work.

“In September, we had the largest increase in our labor force we’ve seen in nearly a quarter of a century,” said Mark Butler, the state labor commissioner.

It’s about the math: the unemployment rate is calculated by looking at the number of people who either have jobs or are actively looking. So it can go up when people who’ve been discouraged flock back from the sidelines into the hunt for a paycheck.

During the past month, the Georgia economy added 18,100 jobs. And that is the strongest September since 1997. But the workforce bulged by 25,737 people, so the unemployment rate went up, he said. “It’s really good news because almost three-quarters of them landed a job right away.”

The labor force since January has surged by 134,082, Butler said.

So despite that increase in the jobless rate, the overall trajectory is one of an improving labor market – good for workers who want higher wages or more choice when it comes to picking where they work.

Hannah Hardy of Winder is one of those taking advantage of that shift.

Hardy, 20, had been working at a restaurant, but it didn’t suit her.

So she left the eatery, linked up with Hire Dynamics, an Atlanta-based staffing agency, and was quickly placed in a job on the second shift at a large distribution center about a 15-minute drive from her apartment.

“Food work really isn’t for me,” she said. “I prefer warehouse work. For me, it’s easy and fast-paced. It’s definitely good work.”

Larry Feinstein, chief executive of Hire Dynamics, said he has seen demand for labor steadily rise for several years. And the company, which sends up to 6,000 people to jobs each week, is especially attuned to the need for workers as the holidays approach.

Even the changes in consumer habits have not undermined the need for help in metro Atlanta’s distribution centers, Feinstein said. “It used to be that the need was in getting merchandise to the stores and now the stores aren’t growing, but they are doing more e-commerce.”

Wages even for the lower-skilled jobs have edged up to $12 an hour, he said. It’s higher for those with particular abilities like fork-lift drivers, he said. “Those guys are making $14 to $16 an hour.”

Here are six ways to sound smart in talking about Georgia’s jobless rate:

1. The Georgia unemployment rate has come down from 5.6 percent in September of last year – mostly on the strength of job creation.

At its post-recession worst, the Georgia jobless rate was 10.5 percent. Before the recession it was under 5.0 percent. The very lowest rate on record was in November of 2000: 3.4 percent.

2. Georgia’s rate is still above the national rate of 5.0 percent.

It has not been below the national average since late-2007, before the economy slipped into recession.

3. Despite the improvement, there are still 248,758 Georgians looking for work in a workforce of nearly 4.9 million people.

More disturbingly, a historically high share of the unemployed have been looking for more than six months. And anyone not actively looking for work is not officially counted as unemployed.

State officials encouraged job seekers to see their jobs site. Click here.

4. It was a much stronger than average September for job growth, at least compared to the five previous years. From August to September, the number of jobs in the state grew 18,100. The average September during the previous five years saw growth of 5,500 jobs.

The economy has added 118,700 jobs in the past 12 months.

5. The sector adding the most employees was professional and business services – that is, the corporate sector – which grew by 7,300.

But growth also came in government, which added 3,400, leisure and hospitality, 2,900, financial activities, up by 1,500, and construction, which added 1,300.

6. Some job losses came in education and health services, and trade, transportation and warehousing

BONUS FACT: Layoffs were down over the year, based on the number of new claims for unemployment insurance. There were about 24,400 in September, 9.4 percent lower than in September a year ago.

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September unemployment rate, Georgia

Percent of labor force that is out of working and has been looking for a job

2006 ….. 4.7

2007….. 4.8

2008 …..7.0

2009….. 10.4

2010 …..10.4

2011 …..10.0

2012 …..8.7

2013 …..7.8

2014 …..6.8

2015 …..5.6

2016 ….. 5.1

Jobs added (or lost) in September, Georgia

2006 ….. 2,800

2007 ….. -1,700

2008 ….. -18,300

2009 ….. -12,500

2010 ….. -5,400

2011 ….. 5,100

2012 ….. 3,300

2013 ….. 9,500

2014 ….. 8,300

2015 ….. 1,500

2016 ….. 18,100

Jobs added in Georgia, January-September

2014 ….. 99,700

2015 ….. 73,300

2016 …..75,200

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor

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