Not the unemployment rate — although that needs work, too. But the share of people who are working is still down.
Not only that, Georgia’s rate has fallen farther than all but six states, according to an analysis released today by the Pew Charitable Trusts – further evidence that the downturn was more damaging in Georgia than in most of the country.
Today’s data is also reason to think that the recovery is still incomplete.
The unemployment rate in the state, which has been falling now for nearly five years, slipped to 5.5 percent in December. That compares to 5.1 percent eight years earlier as the economy slipped into recession.
But the unemployment rate is only part of the story.
For one thing, that official rate only counts people who are out of work and looking for a job. It doesn’t count people who are not searching for work.
Without question, the job market in Georgia is in much better shape than it was a few years ago. Yet the most recent data shows that there were about 100,000 more people in Georgia working eight years ago than there are now.
But some of the drop could be because people have gone back to school and some of it could be because thousands of boomers have retired. So the Pew study focused on people between the ages of 25 and 54 – prime working years when relatively few people are in school or retired.
In 2007, 79.9 percent of Georgians in that age bracket were working. As of the end of 2015, the share of that group working was 75.3 percent, a drop of 4.5 percentage points.
Six states had a steeper fall than Georgia. The worst drop came in New Mexico where the share of working people plunged from 79.1 percent to 71.9 percent.
Nationally, the share of people working fell 2.7 percentage points, from 79.9 percent to 77.2 percent.
Economists have been debating data like this for some time.
Some analysts note that the overall percentage of people working peaked long before the Great Recession. They argue that the dropping share may be more “structural.”
Others say it’s the result of a weak labor market.
Pew says in its report that having a lot of people on the sidelines means less money in tax revenues, which stresses government budgets and forces a smaller group of taxpayers to make up the different. Moreover, it means more people dependent on government and families to support them.
Fewer people working also means less consumer spending, and weaker demand in the economy means slower expansion and fewer jobs.
Only two states have a higher share of prime-age people working now than in 2007: Michigan and Iowa. The increase was small in Michigan.
But Iowa had a 1.1 percentage point rise. Among that prime age group, 87.1 percent of those in Iowa are working, according to Pew.
Prospects for Georgia this year seem upbeat, experts say, but not especially robust.