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Metro jobless rate reflects winter chill

The metro Atlanta unemployment rate rose in January to 5.3 percent from 5.0 percent in December, the government reported Thursday.

A year ago, the jobless rate for the region was 5.2 percent. Since then, metro Atlanta has added nearly 100,000 jobs – while even more people have entered or re-entered the labor force looking for work.

Overall, that is good news – more jobs and a higher share of people working – even if the surge of jobseekers nudged up the jobless rate.

During the slow expansion of recent years, economists fretted about the dropping share of people who were working. That trend has reversed a bit.

Atlanta-based Acuity is an example of how job growth in turn draws more people into the labor force.

The 77-person company does financial work for companies, typically those with revenue under $25 million. It has grown about one-third in just a year, said Kenji Kuramoto, founder and chief executive.

And, perhaps because the firm emphasizes flexibility, the 12-year-old company often appeals to people who might be looking for something more than a big paycheck, he said.

“We found a lot of people with accounting and financial expertise were sitting out of the job market.”

The metro jobless rate report follows last week’s announcement that the statewide rate in January held steady at 5.5 percent.

However, unlike the state rate the metro rate is not adjusted for seasonal patterns. So the January number reflects a typical fall in jobs and a rise in unemployment for the month.

Metro Atlanta lost 37,000 jobs, according to the report — a slightly smaller loss than average over the past few Januarys.

Economists say one month’s data can be unreliable, so the more important question is about the longer arc of the economy. That trend has been positive: the metro Atlanta economy has added 96,800 jobs in the past year – the lion’s share of the job growth in the state.

Since early 2010, the region has added about 450,000 jobs, helping cut the jobless rate in half. Yet damage from the recession remains.

Roughly 158,000 people in metro Atlanta are counted as unemployed — that is, out of work and looking for a job. Additionally, many of the jobs created since are in fields like tourism that typically do not pay very well.

That number doesn’t include those who have retired early or just given up looking. And nearly one-third of the unemployed– more than 45,000 people – have been searching for six months or more.

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