Putting Georgia’s employment numbers in perspective

Putting Georgia’s employment numbers in perspective

Putting Georgia’s employment numbers in perspective

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Is there any reason not to cheer? Georgia’s unemployment rate dropped to 4.1 percent in May. 

Here are three reasons why this looks good for Georgia. 

First, the unemployment rate is declining, giving optimism that the economy is bouncing back from the pandemic.

Second, there were only two periods in recorded history when Georgia’s unemployment rate was this low or lower. Starting from 1976—the extent of available data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on unemployment rates for the states—the first period was between October 1998 and July 2001 when the rate reached as low as 3.4 percent. This period occurred after the long economic expansion of the 1990s. 

The other period—from April 2018 to the start of the pandemic—just occurred with Donald Trump in the White House. During this period, Georgia broke its best record by achieving 3.3 percent.

Third, Georgia’s rate is the 16th lowest in the country, beating out 34 other states. For comparison, the United States as a whole has a rate of 5.8 percent rate, considerably higher than Georgia’s.



But wait. Is the unemployment rate artificially low?

While optimism is merited, it is important to put the unemployment numbers in perspective.

Unemployment percentages do not capture those who do not participate in the labor force. According to the BLS, anyone not employed who had not actively looked for a job during the prior four weeks is not part of the labor force. Therefore, any person temporarily not looking for work is not accounted for when the BLS calculates the official unemployment rate. Especially now with all the repercussions of the pandemic, all those potential workers who have been sitting on the sidelines for the last four weeks are simply not counted.

The behavior of labor force participation is a loose link for unemployment numbers. Normally, when economic times are good, sidelined workers and even retirees come back into the labor force, which can push the unemployment rate up. When times are bad, the opposite happens. Workers drop out of the labor force, artificially lowering the unemployment rate.

During the depth of the pandemic, and as expected, the labor force participation rate in Georgia dropped—to 59.4 percent to be precise, compared to 62.9 percent just prior to the pandemic. In terms of real people, there were an estimated 260,575 fewer workers participating in the labor force—who were not counted among the unemployed, to emphasize the point. Participation bounced back some to 61.7 percent, but still there are 40,934 fewer workers in the labor force.

Other ways to measure it

BLS’s U-6 labor underutilization metric is another way to shed light on unemployment. It adds to the unemployed those discouraged and other “marginally attached” workers as well as part-time workers wanting full-time work but cannot find it. 

Nationally, the U-6 rate hit a historic high of 22.9 percent in April 2020 representing 36.3 million people. It has since dropped to 10.2 percent representing 16.5 million people. However, in the months prior to the pandemic, the rate was at historic lows—in fact, as low as 6.8 percent. Obviously, while 10.2 percent is far better than 22.9 percent, it is significantly worse than 6.8 percent, representing a difference of 5.3 million workers.

Unfortunately, monthly U-6 data is not available for the states, making any comparison difficult. The BLS currently publishes only experimental U-6 state data averaged over a year’s time.

More useful for the states is the Nonfarm Employment estimates from BLS’s Current Employment Statistics survey. Only two states—Utah & Idaho—have caught up with employment from where they were in February 2020 before the pandemic hit. In contrast, the U.S as a whole is still 5% behind. Georgia ranks 16th among the states and is 4.0 % behind. Hawaii (-14.8%), New York (-9.6%), and Nevada (-8.6%) are the three states furthest behind. 

If we use standard economic ARIMA Model time-series forecasting to estimate where employment would have been absent the pandemic, no state is back on track. The United States is 6.8% behind, and Georgia ranks near the middle in 27th place at −6.1%. Utah and Idaho lead the pack being the furthest ahead, while Hawaii, Nevada, New York, California, and Massachusetts trail the pack.

Observations on state differences and policies

In viewing the differences in employment among the states, the more rural states appear to be doing better. The states more dependent on tourism appear to be doing worse. State governments that implemented less severe lockdowns appear to be doing better. To test these observations, we will be running regression analyses to tease out any correlations. We will post the results when completed.

In the meantime, it is important for government to adopt policies that will help businesses to rebound and make it easier for startups. The goal should be not to just lower unemployment but also to bring those sidelined workers back into the labor force.

Erik Randolph is the Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

How to Take Away Something Positive from the COVID Crisis

How to Take Away Something Positive from the COVID Crisis

How to Take Away Something Positive from the COVID Crisis

By Kristin Barker

The year 2020 has been difficult for everyone. It has caused organizations and businesses to pivot from their planned strategies and shift quickly to identify new ones. It has forced individuals to find new career paths and create new support structures. It’s kept us from our families and isolated us from the communities we are used to counting on. In short, it has been one tough year.

It has been the most difficult year I have seen over my lifetime. But I will say it has also been inspiring. I have been inspired by the ability of our community and its leaders to come together. Leadership in Columbus has been able to connect in new and sometimes surprising ways to support and meet continually changing needs. 

Betsy Covington at the Community Foundation and Ben Moser at United Way acted very early in the year to coordinate COVID Response calls to keep Columbus connected, positive, and focused throughout much of this crisis year. Their efforts and the efforts of others to join hands and find out-of-the-box solutions in the moment has been very encouraging.

While seeing these efforts gives hope to myself and (I’m sure) to others, our Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) partners also know there will be many additional challenges to address and emerging issues to tackle in the future. We began to talk about the shifts that were happening with our own efforts in Columbus. We heard about the new practices that our business and nonprofit partners were having to adopt and the heightened needs that continue to arise among the populations we serve. 

Our subcommittees began to ask, “What can we learn from our ability to pivot in 2020 that will allow us to react more effectively and responsively in 2021?” This question led us to develop a series of events focused on The Changing COVID Workforce

Our first event in this series will be held on January 21, 2021. This event will address Economic Forces During a Pandemic: How COVID is Shaping the Labor Market. During this event we examine the labor-supply gaps that exist and look at business policies and practices that impact workforce participation. This discussion will set the stage for later events and will consider the need for possible shifts in training and hiring practices. 

Our second event in the series will be on March 24 and will examine how we leverage our community assets to mitigate the impact of COVID. Betsy Covington and Ben Moser are going to speak during this event and help us think through what our community did really well in 2020. We will discuss how we can leverage what we have learned to navigate 2021 and to improve our community in the future. The final event on May 19 will focus on maintaining the strength of our workforce.

All three of these discussions will help us prepare to successfully repair our local economy in light of the COVID-related adjustments we have been forced to make along the way. We need to be sure that businesses (large and small) can prosper while keeping all people in our community safe and avoiding as much collateral damage from this virus as possible. 

There are also some existing issues that COVID has shined a light on. In comparison to other areas of the country, Columbus has very low average wages. This has created a situation locally where national stimulus efforts may harm our local economy disproportionately. In some cases, businesses have shared that their challenges in hiring additional labor have hamstrung their efforts to produce at scale or accept additional contracts. In other cases, employers have had to scale down production due to workforce restrictions. These situations open up an essential conversation about both average and living wages in Columbus, because it’s important for everyone to earn enough to support their families.

Ultimately, I see a heart at work in our community that is something I don’t believe you can find everywhere. There is a genuine and pervasive desire to work together for the common good. This is something special about Columbus, and I believe the Changing COVID Workforce event series will allow us to take greater advantage of our outstanding community spirit.


Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

By David Bass

There has been much focus—and rightly so—on the nearly 370,000 victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., plus the millions more who have been touched by this terrible disease in some way

What hasn’t gotten as much attention are the unseen victims of the pandemic: The tens of millions of low-income, vulnerable students who have experienced devastating learning losses due to school closures and lack of educational options.

Highlighting this disturbing trend, McKinsey & Company recently put out an assessment of student learning outcomes during COVID-19 school closures. The results are bleak: Students of color are about three to five months behind in learning, while white students are one to three months behind.


Worsening educational inequities 

The sad reality is that virtual learning tends to favor wealthier, whiter families who have access to the types of resources needed to make this environment successful. Families of means have the resources to purchase whatever educational resources they deem necessary—from private-school tuition to individual tutors to new equipment to having one parent cut back their work hours in order to serve as a learning facilitator at home. 

 Low-income families don’t have these options. Many of them lack access to even basic reliable Internet or a desktop or laptop computer, not to mention a quiet place to learn and active parental involvement.


More options needed right now

A common refrain here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity when it comes to education is this: We can’t afford to wait another date to bring real options to Georgia students. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the urgency.

2020 has come and gone, and sadly it is too late to stem the tide of learning losses for our most vulnerable populations. But we can do new things in 2021 to help struggling students.

It begins by providing access to the widest range of educational options possible—to give immediate access to these options for all families regardless of income, zip code, or race. That option might look like a locally zoned public school, a charter school, a private school, or a home school. 

Some parents feel most comfortable keeping their children home in an exclusively virtual learning environment. Others want their kids back in school full-time. The need is for options, not top-down declarations or one-size-fits-all approaches. This means that schools must reopen for families who feel comfortable returning their children to in-classroom instruction.

If our goal is truly to achieve educational equity regardless of income or neighborhood, then expanded options are essential, now more than ever.


Investment’s key to Ga.’s economic mobility | AJC

Investment’s key to Ga.’s economic mobility | AJC

Investment’s key to Ga.’s economic mobility | AJC

Over the last decade, Georgia has experienced remarkable progress in developing our transportation and infrastructure network. We stabilized our roads and bridges in 2015 with HB170, regional transit systems in 2018, and invested over $300 million in state money in the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Since 2012, over 70 communities have passed local option sales taxes for infrastructure…

And Georgia still has economic challenges. The Georgia Center for Opportunity recently noted that there are 250,000 working-age men not working or looking for work in Georgia. By 2027, 87 Georgia counties will have lost jobs and, by 2030, 74 counties will see population loss.

Managing Stress | HEALTHY @ HOME

Managing Stress | HEALTHY @ HOME

Managing Stress | HEALTHY @ HOME

As if the holidays weren’t enough, we’re now in the midst of another surge in the Coronavirus pandemic. 2020 has been stressful. Join licensed professional counselor, Janae Combs, as she gives us some practical advice and tips for managing stress in a healthy way.

To learn more about the Healthy @ Home series and see additional videos click here

We are driven by a belief – supported by experience and research- that people from all walks of life are more likely to flourish if they have an intact, healthy family and strong relationships.


To learn more about how the Healthy Families Initiative is active in the community, click here