Updated: Tue, 08/20/2013 - 07:49

CITY TALK: Latest Savannah unemployment data even worse than it seems

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According to the estimates released last week by the Georgia Department of Labor, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 8.8 percent in July.

Sure, that’s down from 9.1 percent a year ago, but the rate has risen dramatically in recent months. Georgia’s statewide unemployment rate had fallen all the way to 8.2 percent in April before increasing the last three months.

In a press release, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler in part blamed the rise on seasonal factors, but the data has already been adjusted for seasonality. Butler and those under him know this.

Now, it’s possible we need to change the formula for the seasonal adjustments to some degree, but these are ugly numbers no matter how you look at them.

The statewide unemployment rate comes from an ongoing survey of households. Later this week we’ll get more survey data for July, including the local unemployment rate.

Last week’s release also included statewide and metro area payroll employment estimates from the ongoing survey of employers.

The headline number for the state looked pretty good. Georgia’s total nonfarm employment grew by 2.9 percent over the past year. Government employment declined, but private employment grew 3.6 percent statewide.

But the Atlanta metro area’s robust 3.1 percent gain accounted for much of the increase. Athens and Augusta posted strong numbers too.

By contrast, the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 157,500 jobs last month, up just 700 from July 2012.

We need to add about 2,000 jobs per year just to keep pace with population growth.

The Savannah metro area last month had 3,800 fewer jobs than in July 2007, a few months before the nation fell into recession.

Among Georgia’s metro areas, only Albany, Dalton, Rome and Warner Robins had a slower rate of job growth over the past year than Savannah.

The local data look even a little worse when broken down by employment sector.

Two areas with relatively low wages and limited benefits — retail trade and hospitality — have been the best performers over the past year. Without gains in those areas, we would have seen an outright decline in jobs compared to a year ago.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Savannah metro area lost about 400 federal government jobs over the past year. Nearby Hinesville lost 300. Warner Robins lost 900.

The state as a whole saw federal employment decline by 4,100 over the past year. About half of those were civilian positions with the Department of Defense.

I hope state and local leaders realize just how far we are from a full recovery.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net and http://www.billdawers.com. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

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