Atlanta jobless rate rises, economy sheds jobs

Metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate rose, climbing from 4.8 percent in December to 5.2 percent in January, the state labor department said Thursday.

The region also lost 36,200 jobs during the month.

However, neither the rate nor the job loss is as bad as it sounds since January is always a down month for jobs: many seasonal workers are let go as holiday shopping and celebrating come to an end, while most companies have not yet put their new year’s hiring plans into gear.

Overall, despite several months of volatility in the stock market, the picture is encouraging, said Ed Hyland, Atlanta-based global investment specialist with J.P. Morgan Private Bank.

“Atlanta seems to be – both from looking at the numbers and anecdotally – doing pretty well,” he said. “I look out my window and see cranes. And you walk into restaurants and they’re crowded. I think that’s a positive indication.”

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The stock market’s slide started soon after the Federal Reserve nudged short-term interest rates higher. But even more, it was apparently driven by worry about the turmoil in the Chinese and European economies.

The next few months will show whether the stock market’s wobbling is an astute forecast or just a case of nerves.

Hyland says global winds are mostly rattling companies with overseas operations.

“Where it hurts the U.S. economy is in earnings. Global activity has more of an effect on the earnings of the S&P 500 than it does on GDP. We don’t think global problems could pull the U.S. economy into a recession, but it could pull the S&P 500 into an earnings recession.”

The U.S. economy may not be surging, but its progress seems steady, he said. “It’s as if the market is anticipating that the United State is going to go into a recession and we don’t see that happening. It may be weak economic growth, but it will be stable. I won’t take off.”

Working 3As Januarys go, it was a mixed bag.

The unemployment rate rose more than it usually does during the month. On the other hand, during the previous five Januarys, metro Atlanta lost an average of 41,000 jobs.

In January of 2015, Atlanta lost 37,900 jobs.

When the government calculates the jobless rate, it only includes people who are actively searching for work. In January, metro Atlanta had about 147,000 people in that category.

The rate doesn’t include people who have given up looking for work, retired or gone back to school. They are not considered part of the labor force.

Nationally, new claims for unemployment fell this week to one of its lowest levels in five decades. Locally, the labor department reported 21,224 new claims for unemployment insurance during the month.

The job losses came from a range of sectors during the month: Among the losers were retail, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing. Even education and healthcare slimmed down during the month.

Nearly the only sector of the economy that added jobs was accounting and tax preparation – perhaps in expectation of the income tax season that climaxes April 15.

But one month’s changes can be statistical glitches, weather-related lags or momentary shifts. The more important lens is longer – and a year ago, the jobless rate in metro Atlanta was 6.2 percent.

During the following 12 months, metro Atlanta added 88,400 jobs.

That is weaker than the previous year, but it’s better than any other January-to-January count since 1994.

The January jobs report was delayed for several weeks as government statisticians collect more data on the past year and re-crunch the numbers. One result of the closer look was a revision in December’s unemployment rate, from 4.9 percent to 4.8 percent.

The Atlanta rate is now back above the national rate, where it has been for nearly every month since the recession started in late 2007. The U.S. unemployment rate is 4.9 percent.

But national rates are adjusted to account for seasonal patterns. Metro rates are not.

Eight years after the economy slipped into recession and five years after job growth began again, metro Atlanta’s recovery is still unbalanced. Compared to the pre-recession peaks, there are about 147,500 more jobs but only 44,000 more people working.

That is a sign that many of the jobs are part-time or poorly paid and that some people are working more than job.

In November 2007, the month before recession began, the unemployment rate for metro Atlanta was 4.4 percent.

Among the core counties of metro Atlanta, the unemployment rate ranged, with the best rates at the north of the region:

  • Cobb, 4.6 percent
  • Gwinnett, 4.7 percent
  • Fulton, 5.4 percent
  • DeKalb, 5.5 percent
  • Clayton, 6.9 percent

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