Metro jobless rate bucking U.S. trend again


The jobless rate for metro Atlanta rose last month from 7.2 to 7.6 percent – the second consecutive monthly increase, but still down from 8.6 percent a year ago, the state Department of Labor said.

Yearly layoffs in education account for some of the rise, and the data is not adjusted for seasonal changes.

Still, the latest snapshot — which comes a week after the state rate also rose — seems to show Atlanta and Georgia moving backward. The national rate has declined to 6.1 percent but the state, with 7.4 percent unemployment, is now tied for the sixth-highest rate in the nation. Metro Atlanta accounts for more than half of Georgia’s jobs.

The long-term trend remains positive, though not robust, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University.

“The growth is there, neither escalating or de-escalating. If you look back a year, you see the unemployment rate dropping and that is a good thing.”

June’s rate increase should not be surprising: in every one of the past 15 Junes, the jobless rate for Atlanta has climbed from the month before. In fact, the increase this time was less than the average jump.

Moreover, the June data should not shroud the larger picture of an economy gradually improving, Dhawan said.

Since last June, metro Atlanta has added 58,300 jobs. Most of them have been in professional and business services, trade, transportation and warehousing, leisure and hospitality. In some sectors, growth is fast enough that there are shortages, according to a study by the Atlanta-based, Lucas Group, an executive search firm.

Among those most in demand, according to Scott Smith, the company’s chief marketing officer: experienced certified public accountants, tech experts in mining “big data” and engineers for manufacturing processes.

Nationally, the number of people filing for unemployment insurance last week was the lowest since early 2006. In contrast, the number of claims in Georgia last month was up 13.4 percent from the month before.

And while there is long-run improvement, five years of expansion has not kept pace with growth in the metro Atlanta population. The region is still 63,000 shy of replacing the jobs lost in the 2007-09 recession.

Thousands of people have left the workforce or never really entered it, discouraged at the prospects of finding work. Even so, for many jobseekers the odds are not good.

Lawson Pruett, 25, of Ellenwood, said he has been through a series of job applications.

“I am pretty good at getting my foot in the door,” he said. “But once you get an interview, you come out and there are six guys sitting there, waiting to go in.”

He said he’s seen the effect of a glut of workers. “If someone makes one mistake, the company is very quick to say, ‘We’ve got 20 other guys who can do that job.’”

After a recent temp job ended, Pruett was hired to drive a truck for a large, local grocery operation. He starts work at 3 a.m., loads palettes with food, puts them on the truck and delivers them to various restaurants.

He is paid around $10.50 an hour before taxes, he said.

“I am very lucky that my wife is willing to work her job for so many hours.”

It is not just that there aren’t more job openings. Companies are slow to fill those they have, according to a study of government data by several economists.

Katherine Brown, 33, of Union City, said she was told months ago that she was being hired as a counselor in a group home for teens. But her starting date has been repeatedly postponed.

Meanwhile, she frets about making her half of the rent and considers temp jobs offered by a staffing agency she’s signed up with. Sometimes she takes them, but a $9-an-hour job in Kennesaw had her burning much of her pay in gasoline.

By her count, she has applied for several hundred jobs. Sometimes she feels discouraged, sometimes she thinks she just needs to persist.

“Maybe it’s time for me to go – maybe to Texas, maybe Washington state,” she said. “Things have to turn around. They have no choice but to turn around.”

The hiring turnaround may be slow partly because companies are simply willing to get by with fewer employees, said Russell Holcombe, president of Atlanta-based Holcombe Financial, a financial planning and investment management company.

Companies that survived the recession often changed their attitudes about hiring, he said. “I have seen the effects of the financial crisis on the owners first-hand and think that lean is the new normal. Employees, despite being a company’s most valuable asset, are expensive.”



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