10 percent jobless in metro area

Stephanie Toone/Staff
Joseph Campbell gets help understanding the status of his employment applications with Georgia Department of Labor specialist Linda Thompkins on Thursday.

Each week, Joseph Campbell makes a two-mile round-trip walk in hopes of finding a job.

The 41-year-old Augusta man lost his job as a truck driver for FPL Foods in February. He walks from his home on D'Antignac Street to the Georgia Department of Labor on Greene Street weekly.

"Right now, my truck is parked at home. I have no gas to put in it," Mr. Campbell said while waiting for his appointment at the labor department Thursday. "I've put in a lot of applications, but they keep telling me they're waiting for the economy to pick up."

Mr. Campbell's frustration is likely shared with the 26,430 people in the Augusta metro area who were jobless in June. According to data released Thursday by the Georgia Department of Labor, the unemployment rate for the six-county metro area increased to 10.1 percent in June. It was 9.2 percent in May and 6.3 percent in June 2008.

The unemployment rate in Richmond County jumped from 9.5 percent in May to 11.1 percent in June, the state reported. It was 7.4 percent in June 2008.

Burke and McDuffie counties remained in double digit unemployment, 12.3 and 12.0 percent respectively. Both are more than 1 percentage point increases from the month before.

The percentage of unemployed in Columbia County increased from 6.7 percent in May to 7.4 percent in June.

The metro area lost federal and local government jobs, in addition to jobs in retail trade, hospitality, education and health services, according to state labor data. Jobs were added in the transportation and warehousing sector.

The deeper decline in the number of working Augustans is surprising considering the subtle signs of economic recovery, said Mike Frazier, the owner of Peak Employment Solutions, which helps find work for hundreds of people each week.

"I just didn't foresee it, but, at the same time, we are seeing a lot of people come in," Mr. Frazier said. "I just really hope this is the beginning of the end."

Higher unemployment is significant to the local economy because it translates into a lower demand for goods and shrinking economic activity, said Paulo Guimarães, an economics professor at the University of South Carolina.

"There is a psychological impact of having a high unemployment rate, which makes for an environment where people feel that there's a tough situation. By doing that, that's an additional reason for them to hold onto spending," Mr. Guimarães said.

Spending is what drives the U.S. economy, he said.

Mr. Guimarães said having more unemployed workers also places a higher load on public resources -- more people drawing unemployment benefits.

The unemployment rate is a lagging economic indicator, economists explain, because it can grow even when other economic activity improves. The labor force represents the number of people who are wanting and willing to work.

"As the economy starts picking, there will be people who will join the labor force because now they believe they have a chance of finding a job," Mr. Guimarães said. Jobs that might not be available, he said, which drives up the unemployment percentage.

"It makes the situation look worse because a lot of people are looking for jobs all of a sudden," Mr. Guimarães said.

Mr. Campbell said he does see a light at the end of the tunnel. Several jobs have reviewed his application.

"I can't let this get me down. I put my trust in God," he said. "What God has for me will be for me."

Reach Tim Rausch and Stephanie Toone at (706) 724-0851.

AUGUSTA METRO JOBLESS RATE

The metro area covers Richmond, McDuffie, Burke and Columbia counties in Georgia and Edgefield and Aiken counties in South Carolina.

MonthLabor forceEmployedUnemployed
January 258,914236,73622,178 (8.6%)
February259,416236,00023,416 (9.0%)
March258,969236,07822,891 (8.8%)
April 259,443237,78321,660 (8.3%)
May 260,106 236,283 23,823 (9.2%)
June 261,545 235,115 26,430 (10.1%)

Source: Georgia Department of Labor

ONLINE EXTRA

See a county-by-county breakdown of the June jobless rates throughout Georgia here .