Rausch has been the business editor since September 2008, previously serving as senior business reporter. He joined the Chronicle in April 2007. He has written for newspapers in Napoleon, Ohio, Moline, Ill., and Lima, Ohio. He holds a bachelor of science in journalism from Ohio University (1992). In 2006, he received a second place award in business writing from the Association Press in Ohio.
Posted July 26, 2012 01:04 pm - Updated July 26, 2012 01:05 pm

Has Augusta lost its economic recovery?

On paper, Augusta has lost its economic recovery.


Based on two different sets of labor statistics, the Augusta metro area has fewer jobs now than when the recession ended in mid 2009 – despite a slow recovery that won back more than half of what was lost during the Great Recession by May 2011.


The June metro unemployment report from the Georgia Department of Labor said there were 230,985 people working in the six-county area. Until now, the lowest point was 231,790 employed in June 2009, the month that the Great Recession ended.


Jobs bounced back, averaging 233,800 in 2010 and 235,290 in 2011. The high point in the recovery was Masters Tournament month in April 2011, where the state said 239,000 people had work and the unemployment rate had gone down to 8.5 percent.


And that second set of data. It is the survey by the labor statisticians of the area employers. (The numbers are always lower than the labor force in the household unemployment survey because this one doesn’t include the self-employed.)


The trend is similar.


When the Great Recession officially started in December 2007, there were 216,500 jobs in the metro area. When the recession officially ended in June 2009, there were 207,700 jobs. But Augusta kept bleeding work until July, hitting a low of 204,700.


Then the recovery started. Augusta crept back to 210,300 jobs by December. There was some month-to-month fluctuation in 2010, but the metro area averaged 209,300 jobs that year – and averaged 209,900 jobs in 2011.


By Masters month of April 2011, the job market recovered to 214,200 jobs. The non-Masters affected peak was 211,600 in May 2011.


And Augusta has been bleeding jobs ever since. The recovery was erased by February.


According to the state’s monthly survey of employers, there were 204,800 jobs in Augusta in February. For June, the state said there are 205,900.


In speaking with economists, they all say that labor data gets revised from month to month and then annually, so it is likely that the Augusta metro numbers will not be this low by the time the mass revision takes place at the beginning of 2013.


So hundreds of jobs will magically be added to the currently preliminary results, but the trend will still show an erosion of the recovery over the past year.


And that has happened already this year. Preliminary April and May data was revised to add hundreds of jobs, though it still indicated thousands fewer than the year before.


THE BURSTING OF THE SRS STIMULUS BUBBLE?: The only substantive blow to the metro area was the loss of 1,400 jobs at Savannah River Site last year, and the end of the last pieces of stimulus work at SRS.


Looking at the South Carolina side of the metro area from Thursday’s unemployment stats, it shows 2,035 fewer people with jobs last month than those working in June 2011. Factor out the seasonal aspect of June job-seekers, and the number gets close to the SRS layoff figures.


SRS got $1.6 billion in Recovery Act funding, which saved or created 3,000 jobs. So that work has been done for a year. SRS also downsized. The numbers are showing the bursting of the stimulus bubble?


It could explain the 4 percent annual decline in professional and business services jobs, which encompasses contract work.


It doesn’t explain the 7 percent decline in retail.


It doesn’t explain the 7 percent annual decline in manufacturing employment.


Talked to two economic developers whose job it is to keep their fingers on the pulse of manufacturing and industry in the area and they can’t fathom how those jobs have evaporated. There’s no mass layoff to explain. There’s been no unhealthy commentary from plant managers to those developers either.


GOOD NOTES: There are more people working in leisure and hospitality now than a year ago. More people working in wholesale, transportation, utilities, education and health too. And despite a slight decline from May, there are more people toiling in government jobs in the metro area than since before the recession happened.