Georgia labor commissioner gives misleading explanation for grim new employment data

I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the spin promoted by the Georgia Department of Labor under new Commissioner Mark Butler.

In the spring, he cited weak job growth numbers as a sign of improvement in Georgia’s employment picture, but did not take into account basic seasonal factors. Job growth is not constant through the year; the spring is expected to be a time of strong job growth.

In today’s press release about June’s grim numbers (an increase of the unemployment rate to 9.9% and declines in year-over-year employment in the state), Butler says the following (which has already been published without question by the AJC and probably others): “The unemployment rate inched up slightly because of normal seasonal factors, primarily involving the end of the school year,” said State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

But the state unemployment rate is seasonally adjusted to account for the seasonal factors that Butler cites. Yes, the rate is down .1% from June of 2010 (10% then, 9.9% now), but there are 20,000 fewer jobs in the state. If the population is growing, the number of employed workers is shrinking, and the unemployment rate is going down, the only possible conclusion is that the labor force continues to shrink and the labor force participation rate is still declining. Those are bad, bad trends.

The one glimmer of good news is that the number of new claims for unemployment is down year over year: 64,794 in June 2010 and 58,981 in June 2011. That’s still a very high number, more consistent with recession than expansion.

For the Savannah area, the new numbers present a mixed bag so far.The number of initial unemployment insurance claims increased year over year from 2124 last year to 2209 this year. The data suggests that we added 1000 jobs year over year, from 151,000 in the metro area last June to 151,100 for June 2011. That’s not enough to make up for population growth, but at least it’s positive while the state as a whole is negative.

The metro area unemployment rate has not yet been reported. Metro area unemployment rates are reported by the state without a seasonal adjustment, so it’s likely that we’ll see a spike for either June or July.

Savannah metro area employment peaked at over 160,000 before the recession began in late 2007.