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Georgia’s jobless rate falls to 5.1 percent

Georgia’s unemployment rate dropped in March to its lowest rate since December 2007, the state labor department said Thursday.

The rate slipped to 5.1 percent, down from 5.3 percent in February and from 5.5 percent a year ago. Steady job creation has continued to trim the unemployment rate despite the flow of Georgians into the labor force, as most are being snapped up by employers.

The state added 9,500 jobs during the month and 131,000 during the past year.

“It’s all good news,” said Mark Butler, state labor commissioner. “First of all, we are continuing to see individuals coming back to the labor force.”

In general, that is seen as a very good thing – a sign that hiring has been heating up. There are currently just over 5 million Georgians in the labor force, that is, either working or looking for a job. The past several years, the number has grown steadily and hiring has more than kept pace.

The participation rate – the share of the population in the labor force – also has been climbing since hitting a low of 57.0 percent six years ago. If the participation rate were still at the bottom, 485,000 fewer people would be working in Georgia.

On the other hand, the participation rate is still 4.2 percentage points from its high. If the share were again 67.3 percent, as it was in 1999, about 334,000 more people would be working.

Job growth during March stretched across most of the market.

Sectors adding the most employees were construction, which was up 4,700 jobs; the corporate sector, up 2,600 jobs; logistics and trade, up 1,800 jobs; information, which rose 1,400; leisure and hospitality, which added 1,200; financial services, which expanded by 900; and education and health, up 600.

In contrast, some job losses came in government, various services and manufacturing.

As the labor force surged, some new workers arrived in Georgia from elsewhere. Some came out of school. And many who had given up looking for work were encouraged enough to try again.

Not everyone found it, of course. Despite the lower jobless rate, there were 257,648 people out of work and actively looking. More troubling, roughly 77,900 of them have been jobless for at least six months – but both of those numbers have been coming down.

Georgia’s unemployment rate is still well above the national rate of 4.5 percent. It has not been below the national average since 2007, before the economy crashed. However, during the past several years of recovery, the pace of job growth in Georgia has been faster than the nation expansion.

The numbers could mask some problems. Retail, for instance, has been steadily shedding jobs nationally, but the Georgia numbers so far do not reflect that. 

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