Labor commissioner sees positive signs in recent data
by Matt Shinall
Mar 23, 2012 | 1355 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Numbers released Thursday indicate good news of sustained growth, a sign Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler hopes will lead to a continued recovery.

Preliminary data showed the state's seventh consecutive month of decline in February bringing the unemployment rate to 9.1 percent, down one-tenth of a percentage point from the month before. February's preliminary unemployment rate reached its lowest point in nearly three years when the rate was also 9.1 percent in March 2009.

Also declining in February was the number of first-time unemployment insurance claims to the lowest point since June 2008. The number of claims statewide dropped to 46,326, down 31,430, or 40.4 percent, from 77,756 in January.

In Bartow County, initial claims declined over the month nearly 50 percent from 1,158 in January to 609 in February, year-over decline was 2.6 percent from 625 in February 2011.

According to a Georgia Department of Labor press release, most of the decrease came in manufacturing, administrative and support services, trade, construction, and accommodations and food services.

"That's a very good sign and it's a good sign people are going back to work and industries are gaining back some of their jobs," Butler said. "Typically, in January we see a lot of claims due to the temporary nature of holiday jobs, but this past January, we saw one of the biggest drops in claims for what they consider seasonal jobs in many years, which is a good sign. It means people are retaining jobs they picked up.

"Right now, we're on a seven-month streak where we've had increases in employment, the unemployment rate going down for the last seven months in the state of Georgia, and that just goes to show that the businesses of Georgia are picking up steam and they're starting to establish a trend of recovery."

Butler takes heart in an employment increase seen in two of the state's hardest-hit industries, manufacturing and retail, but admits challenges lay ahead in other areas.

Leading Georgia's economic crisis was the construction industry and peripheral markets, including textile and flooring specific to northwest Georgia. Butler feels construction will also be the key for future recovery.

"It's still going to take a while for [the construction industry] to recover and we're still seeing some job losses there. We've seen a couple good months here and there where it's picked up, but we're really watching that very closely, because if we see some increases in construction jobs and that industry starts coming back, that could be about the best news that Georgia could see," Butler said.

An upturn in construction, however, may be far off as Georgia, like much of the nation, continues to face a flood of foreclosures.

"To get back to where we were pre-recession we're going to have to see construction make a comeback," Butler said. "We were left with a lot of inventory across the state of housing, retail space, office space and things like that. Before you can see a big jump in construction, that inventory will have to go down tremendously."

Nationally, the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid fell to a four-year low last week, bolstering the view that the job market is strengthening.

The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. That's the lowest level since March 2008, just months into the Great Recession. The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, dipped to 355,000, matching a four-year low.

Applications have steadily declined since last fall. The drop has coincided with the best three months of hiring in two years. From December through February, employers added an average of 245,000 jobs per month. That's pushed down the unemployment rate to 8.3 percent, the lowest in three years.

Separately, a measure of future U.S. economic activity rose for the fifth straight month.

The Conference Board said that its index of leading economic indicators rose 0.7 percent in February, after a 0.2 percent rise the previous month. The index is designed to anticipate economic conditions in the next three to six months. Most of its components have already been published.

The number of people receiving unemployment aid fell. Nearly 7.3 million people received benefits in the week ending March 3, the latest data available. That's about 140,000 fewer than the previous week.

One concern is that rising gas prices will force consumers to cut back on discretionary spending. That could weigh on economic growth and slow hiring. The Federal Reserve says it expects oil and gas prices to temporarily boost inflation but predicts that longer-term inflation should remain stable.

The job market still has a ways to go to fully recover from the Great Recession. More than 12.8 million people remain unemployed and the economy still has 5 million fewer jobs than before the downturn.

Further data for the month of February, including county-specific unemployment rates, will be released later this month. For more information visit, www.dol.state.ga.us.

-- Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.