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Clayton, Henry differ on unemployment issues

By Justin Boron

Clayton County still has the highest unemployment rate in the Atlanta region while Henry County maintains one of the lowest, according to the most recent data released from the Georgia Department of Labor.

Clayton County's unemployment rate jumped to 5.8 percent adding about 400 people to the jobless category since April, according to Georgia Department of Labor statistics. The next closest unemployment rate is Fulton County with 5.7 percent.

Meanwhile, Henry County took a similar hit, with the number of unemployed rising about 300 since April, the labor department unemployment breakdown says.

The varying figures are confusing to local economic experts who have trouble explaining why Clayton County's unemployment rate is so much higher than Henry County when the two are tightly positioned within the same job market.

Emory Brock, the director of economic development for Clayton County, said it may have to do with demographics.

Historically, he said the Clayton County has had a higher unemployment rate than most counties because of its blue collar profile and abundance of inexpensive rental space.

"In the 1990s, we were averaging 3,000 new jobs each year," he said. "We still had the largest unemployment rate in metro Atlanta."

Migration toward growing counties like Fayette and Henry often leaves Clayton County with the rank-in-file, who Brock said are usually the first to be affected by layoffs.

Executive housing isn't available to the extent it is in Henry County.

"(For families), it's just a natural thing. Move on, move up."

The job stability of Henry County's population also could be attributed to quality of its school system, said Kay Pippin, the executive director of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce.

Clayton County schools consistently trail Henry County's test scores.

A solid school system, Pippin said, produces job stability. But she said it also attracts those who are financially stable as well.

"It's just a two-fold offering," she said. The net effect is that Henry County ends up with more people keeping jobs, Pippin said.

Regardless of the rate disparity in the two counties, the unemployment increases fit in with the job profile of the entire metro Atlanta region, which saw .3 percent increase in unemployment from April to 5 percent.

The state as a whole wasn't any better for jobs, topping the national rate for the first time since August 1989.

Georgia's jobless rate in May, the most recent period for which statistics are available, was 5 percent. The national rate was 4.9 percent.

Before last month, Georgia's employment picture was better than the nation at large for more than 180 consecutive months.

The problem, state labor officials say, is that the same industries that made Georgia an economic powerhouse in the 1990s – aviation, technology and conventions and tourism – have been hardest hit in the recession following Sept. 11.

"Historically Georgia was the center of economic growth in the South," said Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. "Georgia's job market has not recovered, not fully recovered, from the Sept. 11 recession. Hopefully it's not a trend, but the reality is, it is a very difficult job market for those who are out of work."

Another factor playing a role in the job market also could be the summer months. When more young people, who either have just graduated or are out of school, Brock said there are more people looking for jobs.

Andrea Cosby, 33, of Jonesboro said she is looking for summer temporary work but is having little success.

"Even if you have experience in the field, they're not going to call unless the experience is in the last two or three months," she said.

Jay Franklin, 27, of Morrow said he is a recent marketing graduate that has had to settle for retail work.

"It's a little hard to get something in your field," he said.

There is some good news about jobs, though. While Georgia isn't used to having a weaker job market than the rest of the nation, it was only a little bit worse in May, and that could change.

And some other economic indicators for the state look good. For example, state money managers said earlier this month that Georgia government could end the fiscal year ending June 30 with a surplus of $150 million to $200 million. That's a sign that Georgia is making more money from sales taxes and income taxes.

"Labor's only part of the picture," said Roger Tutterow, chairman of the economics department at Kennesaw State University. But he added, "When you're used to growing so much faster than the rest of the country, this is a change. We still have a long way to go if we want to match the growth rate we had in the 1990s."

Over the year, Georgia has added 17,600 payroll jobs.

In May, Georgia added 10,500 jobs. In metro Atlanta, jobs went up 6,200 or .3 percent from 2,272,200 to 2,278,400.

Staff writer Ed Brock and the Associated Press contributed to this article.