The most recent unemployment numbers from the state labor commission show many Georgians still can’t find work. And about 250,000 residents have been out of work for at least seven months. That’s more than half of the unemployed worker pool.
In part, it's because the last recession was unlike previous downturns. Georgia State University economist Rajeev Dhawan says past recessions didn't last as long, and laid-off workers could find new jobs if they waited.
“Recessions used to come once every seven years, last about nine months and then they’re over," he said. "This recession was very long, lasting almost 2.5 years years. That’s why the old conventional wisdom is not working, which means that people are beginning to wake up and realize things may not work out. This is not a temporary problem.”
Construction, banking and municipal employment still haven’t picked up. That leaves workers with some hard choices.
“If you’re a construction worker, it’s very hard for you to go and find a job in the healthcare industry, which is still growing, or to become a manufacturing person somewhere else," Dhawan said. "It’s very difficult. It takes time. It takes retraining.”
He says workers who have to re-train may find it difficult to find work in another field, and many might have to also consider relocating to another part of the state for work.
The state unemployment rate continues to hover around 10 percent. But Dhawan says there are some encouraging signs. For example, state sales tax collections are up. That means consumers are spending more.
State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler says he thinks the job market in Georgia will continue to be stagnant through the summer, but there may be modest growth in the fall. He said he’s encouraged to see some hiring in the construction industry, which will likely have ripple effects in the many sectors that supply equipment and services to the industry.
Butler said the number of long-term unemployed is slowly beginning to decline. He said some of the people who have been without work for a long time will find their old jobs are not coming back, and will indeed have to re-train and possibly relocate. He said that’s especially so in sectors such as the carpet industry in northwest Georgia, where many jobs have been lost.
But in other sectors, hiring will eventually pick back up.
“We are seeing some improvement, after literally years of decline in almost all of the indicators,” he said. “I’m not saying we are out of the woods. We still have a long way to go. This is still somewhat a fragile economy.”