By Johnny Jackson
Officials say the Southern Crescent is among metropolitan areas in Georgia hardest hit by the current recession.
"This comes as no surprise to me," said Steve Cash, director of Henry Council for Quality Growth. "I expect the unemployment rate to go up further, especially in Henry County, because of construction."
The Henry Council for Quality Growth, an organization which does research on the local economy, estimates that thousands of construction jobs have been lost over the past two years.
"From 2001 to 2006, there were 5,000 construction jobs in the housing industry within Henry County," Cash said. "For 2008, there were less than 1,000 construction jobs. When you take all the construction workers out of Henry County, that's quite a number of jobs lost."
The state's Department of Labor reported Thursday that Georgia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 8.1 percent in December 2008, the highest rate in nearly 26 years.
The rate increased seven-tenths of a percent, from a revised 7.4 percent the month before. The rate had jumped 3.6 percent, from a 4.5 percent jobless rate the year before.
That sobering news comes on the heels of continued job losses in the manufacturing industry, mostly in north Georgia, with the closings, or employee reductions, at textile and building-materials plants.
"I sadly see the unemployment rate further increasing for 2009," Cash added. "The silver lining is that commercial jobs were up in 2008. That's been a silver lining for Henry County."
Jobs were also added statewide in health care, education, and within the federal government. The number of payroll jobs, however, decreased by a net 121,800 (2.9 percent) over the past year. In years past, the number of jobs mostly increased from year to year.
This year, most jobs were lost in manufacturing, construction, and trades, according to Sam Hall, spokesman for the State Department of Labor. The state has also lost jobs in professional and business services, which includes temporary employment agencies.
"In addition to that, because of the credit crisis, some of our financial institutions are laying off, and the lack of credit is hurting the overall economy," Hall said.
The last time the state reported a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate above 8 percent was in March of 1983, when the rate was also 8.1 percent.
December marked the 11th consecutive month in which Georgia's unemployment rate has risen above the national average, which was 7.2 percent for December.
Currently, 393,168 unemployed Georgians are looking for work, and 156,719 (40 percent) of them have already begun drawing unemployment insurance benefits.
"We expect that things are going to get worse before they get better, but they will get better," Hall said.
Local leaders remain optimistic, though, that the economy will get better sooner than later. "We're very optimistic that we will see a turnaround, but how soon we'll see it, remains unclear," said Yulonda Beauford, president of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. "I think we're going to struggle a little bit longer."
Beauford said the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce has seen job losses across the board. "All industries are being affected," she said. "All of our various businesses are suffering right now. But, once we see President Obama's stimulus package pass, we should see some relief trickle down into the community."
On the net:
Department of Labor: www.dol.state.ga.us