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Wednesday, September 7, 2011 - 11:30am

Shadow Joblessness Plagues Georgia

State officials said Wednesday that the Lowe’s retail chain will open a distribution center in Rome that will employ 600 people. But it’ll do little to help 350,000 Georgians who have given up looking for full-time work.

The state’s unemployment rate is 10.1 percent. That tallies the nearly half a million Georgians looking for work.

But that statistic doesn’t capture workers who are so discouraged by the job situation that they haven’t looked for work in the past month. It also doesn’t include part-time workers who can’t find full-time jobs.

By an alternative measure, 17.4 percent of Georgia’s workforce is either unemployed or working fewer hours than desired.

Georgia State University economist Rajeev Dhawan says this statistic is an economic bellwether.

“It’s a number that becomes more important in bad times," he said in an interview. "It tells you how bad the situation is. And if you want to see improvement in the economy – the unemployment rate may go up, may go down – but if this number starts to go down, then we can say there’s some improvement going on in the economy.”

Nationally, the alternative unemployment rate is 16.3 percent.

The traditional employment rate tracks people without jobs who have looked for work in the past month. The alternative unemployment measures captures a much larger group of people, says Chris Cunningham with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta.

“These are people who are basically having trouble and they’ve been having trouble for a while and they’ve just stopped actively looking for work," he said. "But they would like to work.”

Even the alternative measure, however, fails to fully capture the current economic tumult, Cunningham says.

"A question I get a lot from the media is, 'How do we track those that lost their six-figure salary and now they are working at Home Depot full-time and making a fraction of that?'" he said. "And that's happening. But there's no way to capture that statistically."

Cunningham said there are more than two million in the U.S. who have been out of work for nearly two years.

State officials said landing the Lowe's distribution center represents Georgia's biggest jobs announcement this year. Unemployment in the Rome region in Northwest Georgia is 10.7 percent.