Augusta not in recession, though hiring has slowed

ATLANTA --- Augusta and Georgia are in a "recessionary environment" but not predicted to see their total work forces shrink during the current year, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Georgia State Economic Forecasting Center.


Hiring in Augusta and statewide will expand just 0.4 percent this year, negligible but still positive and not technically a recession, according to Rajeev Dhawan, the director of the Forecasting Center.

University Health Care System is one of those employers boosting its payroll, setting a new record every year, said Rick Roche, the vice president of human resources for the hospital and nursing home conglomerate.

"For us, health care doesn't necessarily coincide with other economic parameters," he said.

Mr. Dhawan warns that the state's economy might be more complicated than merely the job picture.

"I would caution against the rosy picture being painted by the non-farm employment data because other economic indicators point to a different reality," he said. "Tax revenue collection growth is in the negative territory; unemployment insurance claims are growing sharply, and housing starts are down substantially, all of which only happens in a recessionary environment."

The jobs in Georgia are coming largely from the health care and the government sectors, specifically education, both essentially recession proof in that they often grow even when managers in other sectors are forced to cut back.

The new jobs aren't likely to pay as well as the jobs lost in manufacturing and construction fields, Mr. Dhawan said.

Oil prices, while eventually dropping, will continue to dampen economic activity. Prices will average $94.3 per barrel in 2008, then $82.0 in 2009 and 2010, the report predicts.

"Net-net, the high price of oil is a permanent feature of this decade, and consumers should be prepared to pay more than $100 per barrel until late fall when the global slowdown finally begins to make a dent in demand and subsequently in the price," Mr. Dhawan said.

Augusta State University economics professor Mark Thompson tracks the area's economic statistics, too, to get a reading on the current conditions.

"Right now, we're holding steady," he said. "We're not seeing quite the decline we're seeing in other national reports."


A look at the sectors that added the most jobs in Augusta during the first three months of the year:


Health and education..........770

Business services..........760