Georgia is No. 2 in job losses

ATLANTA --- Declines in manufacturing and construction last month earned Georgia a dubious distinction: Second in the nation for jobs lost in September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday.

 

The state saw an over-the-month employment level decrease of 22,300, a rate exceeded only by historically underperforming Michigan, which saw 28,300 jobs dry out over September.

The sobering losses didn't surprise Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, who called them further evidence of a deepening retrenchment in the state's building industry.

But he said, "The fact that we're No. 2 only to Michigan, that is a surprise."

Mr. Thurmond said Georgia's increased popularity among families looking to relocate might be to blame for September job losses.

"We had further to fall only because we have grown so fast," he said.

The numbers marked a slight improvement from August, when Georgia lost 26,200 jobs. By comparison, state employment increased by 5,500 over September 2007, among the nation's biggest spikes.

Georgia's poor performance was an exception in the region.

The bureau recorded the lowest September unemployment rates in the Northeast and South: 5.7 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively.

Georgia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 6.5 percent in September, the highest rate in 16 years.

Experts call the housing crisis an obvious culprit. Less demand for new single-family homes means fewer construction jobs and trickles down to industries such as carpeting, once big business in north Georgia.

"We're now starting to see the distribution and logistics channels going down," explained Phyllis Finley, a vice president with Atlanta-based employment agency Randstad. "Because consumer demand has gone down for products ... you don't have as much to move."

But even companies that aren't drying up completely could be shrinking, pushing unemployment up, said Steven Rondone, an Atlanta bureau economist.

"We've noticed throughout the South many of the plants, if they see a slowdown, they'll consolidate one plant into another," he said. "If there's some overlap of employees, they let those employees go."

Mr. Rondone warned against using one month's job loss to reflect the state's economic health. He said the numbers can vary greatly from month to month. Though Louisiana, for example, saw a drop of 17,500 employed in September, it was tops in the nation for job increases a month earlier, filling 9,400 positions.

Such variations can come from a single plant closing or opening, Mr. Rondone said.

"This is a large state," he said. "You have to look at the broader picture."

Jobs were down this September in nearly all 11 Georgia metropolitan areas that state labor officials monitored. Athens added 500 workers; jobs were flat in Gainesville.

The state Labor Department recently put its staff on 10-hour work days to serve a glut of unemployed Georgians.

Georgia workers average roughly 11 weeks between jobs, below the national average.

"If there's a silver lining anywhere," Mr. Thurmond said, "Its that we have a very effective and efficient unemployment system."

BY THE NUMBERS: SEPTEMBER UNEMPLOYMENT

IN GEORGIA

22,300 - Jobs lost during September

That's second only to Michigan, which lost 28,300 jobs for the month.


6.5% - September unemployment

That's the highest rate in 16 years.


IN SOUTH CAROLINA

14,400 - Jobs lost during September

That's the largest decrease on record for September.


7.3% - September unemployment

That's down slightly from last month, but still the fifth-highest rate in the nation.


IN THE AREA

600 - Jobs lost in the Augusta area during September

0.7% - Drop in nonfarm employment in September from the previous 12 months


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, bls.gov