The metro Atlanta jobless rate dipped in July on the strength of continued growth in business hiring, but unemployment remains painfully high and the job gains uneven.
The decline, from 8.8 percent to 8.6 percent, runs counter to a summer rise in the statewide rate. State officials said layoffs outside the metro area, along with federal spending cuts, may explain the opposite movements.
And while overall hiring is up, it barely skims the surface of the region’s pool of jobseekers.
The ratio of applicants to openings is still so lopsided that many employers don’t acknowledge candidate resumes, said jobseeker Cora Rucker, 38, of Atlanta.
“It is so discouraging. They should have the decency to respond. It is disrespectful.”
She has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree and has been searching for nearly two years, applying for jobs as a case manager in healthcare, non-profit organizations and state agencies.
“It’s been very trying. I am qualified. I am educated.”
Yet despite the struggles of many jobseekers, the economy – at least the private sector – now seems to be shifting into a higher gear of recovery. In some technology niches, companies say they are scrambling to find the skills they need.
Atlanta-based Sability, a human resources consulting firm, for example, typically hires professionals with an advanced degree, usually in engineering or computer science. The company expects to add as many as 20 people by the end of next year and has increasingly been looking for employees in other cities, said Scott Brown, company president.
“We’re on a good curve. Things have been picking up for us,” he said.
At the same time, government continues to jettison workers. In the past three months in metro Atlanta, government has shed 18,600 jobs. In that time, private payrolls have surged by 35,000 positions, according to the state Labor Department.
“The public sector is the only headwind facing the economy right now,” said Jeff Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. “With state government, the job-cutting is behind us. With local government, we are partway there. And with the federal government we are just getting started.”
The metro jobless rate decline came just a week after officials reported Georgia’s jobless rate had increased from 8.5 to 8.8 percent. Unlike the data for Atlanta, the state’s jobless numbers are adjusted for seasonal variation.
Because metro Atlanta represents 58 percent of Georgia’s labor force, the unemployment rate of region and state often move in parallel.
But in July, layoffs in factories elsewhere in the state were about twice as large as in years past, according to the Labor Department. That shoved the rate higher for the state but didn’t affect metro Atlanta. Federal sequestration – budget and personnel cuts – also hit harder outside Atlanta.
The Atlanta economy is still 92,191 jobs shy of the pre-recession peak in late 2007 – despite nearly six years of population growth.
So while it’s encouraging that the metro Atlanta economy added 72,000 jobs during the past 12 months, it has not been enough to soak up the nearly quarter-of-a-million unemployed workers in the region. And the number of officially jobless does not include those who have stopped looking, gone back to school or are working part-time when they want more.
Lisa Eckman, 32, of Roswell, has tried big companies, non-profits, retail stores that pay the minimum wage. She has applied to be a receptionist, a data entry operator and a customer service rep, as well as work as a freelance photographer.
“I’ve searched Indeed, Monster, Craigslist, and directly through employers,” she said. “Usually I don’t get any response whatsoever. I do feel completely discouraged, especially when I come across incompetent employees that work in customer service.”
Her utilities are scheduled to be turned off this week and she’s received an eviction notice, she said.
“I am willing to take any legal or legit job because at this point I am desperate.”