By Johnny Jackson and Jason Smith
The unemployment rate is falling in metro Atlanta, according to a report released by the Georgia Department of Labor.
State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said, Tuesday, that the preliminary, unadjusted unemployment rate in the metro area decreased to 9.8 percent in March, down four-tenths of a percentage point from a revised 10.2 percent in February.
"It was very much encouraging to me. It says that things are improving," said Marlin Gilbert, vice president of human resources and community relations for Southern States LLC, in Hampton.
Southern States, founded by W. E. Mitchell in 1916, is an electrical utility supplier that has been a staple in the Southern Crescent community since it relocated from Birmingham, Ala., in 1940. It employs roughly 350 people in the area.
"What we'd really like to see, of course, is an improvement in the housing market, because that's what would really be the proof in the pudding," Gilbert said. "This is an early indication that, sooner or later, the housing market will come back.
"It's going to be a really slow recovery," Gilbert added. "But that rate is reflected in all the folks I've talked to. It's a very accurate trend. You have to start somewhere, and that's a good place to start."
Business leaders in Clayton County are elated about the unemployment decline as well.
"We are pleased to see that the unemployment rate in metro Atlanta is decreasing," said Yulonda Beauford, the president and CEO of the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce. "This is a positive sign that our economy is gradually rebounding and is good news for our businesses."
Beauford said the Clayton Chamber has more than 550 business members, with some 100,000 employees in the region. "Businesses are optimistic of a positive change in the economy and some industries have begun hiring employees again," she said. "We hope to see continued stability and job growth in the region."
Commissioner Butler said the jobless rate in the Atlanta area in March a year ago, was 10.1 percent. He said the rate decreased this year because there were 8,600 new jobs in Atlanta in March, mostly in leisure and hospitality, wholesale trade, professional and business services, and educational and health services.
"The unemployment rate decreased in Atlanta, as well as in all of the state's other 24 local areas," said Butler. "This is encouraging, and, hopefully, indicates that a modest recovery may be building throughout the state."
The state labor department reported the lowest local rate, at 7.3 percent, was in metropolitan Athens. The highest rate, at 11.7 percent, was in the Altamaha region in Southeast Georgia. Local area unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted.
However, the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for March was 10.0 percent, down two-tenths of a percentage point, from a revised 10.2 percent in February, the state labor commissioner noted.
Even so, March 2011 marked the 42nd consecutive month that Georgia has exceeded the national unemployment rate, which is currently 8.8 percent.