It’s just a number, but at least it’s a good number.
There may be questions and concerns behind the number, but the unemployment rate in Georgia ticked down to 5.9 percent in August, nipping below 6.0 percent for the first time in seven years, according to a report from the Georgia Department of Labor.
After peaking in the wake of the Great Recession at 10.5 percent, that milestone seemed like a hopeful – and long-awaited – signal that the job market is in the midst of recovery.
After all, when it crossed the line going the other direction, the economy was staggering toward a cliff. Now, the picture has its shadows, but at least it seems to be brightening.
The jobless rate has fallen from 7.1 percent a year ago while the economy in that time has added 83,200 jobs and the number of employees being laid off has continued to decline, according to the labor department.
Job growth has come in nearly all sectors of the economy except government. There has been additional hiring in education, healthcare, leisure and hospitality, financial activities and construction. Professional and business services were flat in August, but they are up 19,100 jobs since last year.
First, more than 7,000 government jobs have evaporated since last year. And while private sector job growth has been broad, it has not been deep. In August a year ago, the economy added 14,300 jobs.
But hiring this August was much more modest – an additional 2,200 positions.
Moreover, the job growth of the past year is also weaker than it was during the two previous years.
That suggests that the economy may be decelerating.
The state’s decent numbers are also dependent on Atlanta’s hiring, said independent economist Michael Wald, formerly of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “While the Atlanta metro area contains 61 percent of the state’s nonfarm jobs, it accounts for 79.8 percent of the state’s nonfarm job growth,” he said. “It shows you how much faster Atlanta is growing vs. the rest of the state, with a few exceptions, such as Savannah.”
Also troubling is the math behind the low unemployment rate.
Government surveys estimate the number of people actively seeking work. That number is then calculated as a share of the total workforce.
So the unemployment rate can fall not only if there are more people working, but if there is a shrinking pool of workers. And in August, there was both.
The workforce number doesn’t count people who have gone back to school, retired, decided to stay home with children or simply given up looking.
And in August, the number of people in the labor force dropped, said Mark Butler, the state labor commissioner. “We did see the amount of individuals in the workforce drop, which is expected. Due to the fact that a lot of individuals are going back to college, going back to school, (people) who had been in the workforce.”
According to the BLS, the number of people in the Georgia workforce grows in some Augusts – like last year – and drops in others. Since the recession ended, three Augusts have seen increases and two have seen declines.
The number of Georgians in the labor force is now more than 200,000 below the level of mid-2008. And the number of Georgians with jobs is also below its level of seven years ago – by 180,000.
If the same proportion of Georgians were in the workforce as in 2008, the unemployment rate would be higher.