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Metro Atlanta jobless rate drops to decade-low level

The metro Atlanta unemployment rate fell in February to 4.9 percent from 5.3 percent in January, the government reported Thursday.

That brings the jobless rate back to the same level as in December 2007, the month that the Great Recession began – only this time, there’s no sign of an imminent downturn. And while there are issues under discussion by the new Trump administration that could affect the economy – as either stimulus or drag – policy on most issues has not yet changed.

A year ago, the jobless rate for the region was 5.2 percent. Since then, the region’s labor force has surged by about 100,000 people – including 19,000 in February. While hiring has been strong, that wave of new workers kept the unemployment rate from dropping much more, according to the state Labor Department.

For the first time, the Atlanta labor force now includes more than 3 million workers. To see the unemployment rate drop while the labor force expands is an encouraging sign for the job market.

The metro economy added 12,300 jobs during the month. That was slightly better than the average during the previous five Februarys and only slightly weaker than the same month in 2015 and 2016 — which were both years of strong job growth.

Economists say one month’s data can be unreliable, so the more important question is about the longer arc of the economy. That has been positive: during the past year, the metro Atlanta economy has added 95,400 jobs.

Atlanta accounts for most job growth in the state. It also has the fastest growth pace of any metro area in the state except for Hinesville, south of Savannah and home to a major Army post, which has a total of 20,300 jobs compared to Atlanta’s 2.7 million.

Since hitting bottom in early 2010 with double-digit unemployment, the metro Atlanta economy has added about 450,000 jobs.

The market is not perfectly balanced: Many of the jobs created do not pay very well and many people are working more than one job. Moreover, roughly 147,000 people in metro Atlanta are counted as unemployed – that is, they are out of work and also looking for a job.

But the labor market has been steadily improving. Last month, most sectors added jobs.

Among sizeable sectors, hiring was down only in the logistics grouping known as trade transportation and utilities. That sector shed 3,300 jobs.

That setback could be a hangover from the post-holiday weakness that the sector shows every January when there are fewer packages and people moving through Atlanta, being stored in the region’s warehouses and being shipped from its distribution centers.

Last week, the government announced that the state rate had declined to 5.3 percent.

However, the metro rate is not adjusted to account for seasonal patterns. So unlike the report on the state, the metro report does not mask what is generally a fall in jobs and a rise in unemployment.

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