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Georgia’s labor force participation rate continues to lag despite record-low unemployment rate

(The Center Square) — Georgia’s unemployment rate hit an all-time low of 3% in May.

The Peach State’s unemployment rate was better than the national rate of 3.6%. The number of unemployed Georgians decreased by 3,329 to 157,542, the lowest number since April 2001.

However, a Center Square analysis of federal labor force data published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis shows the state’s labor participation rate, which at 62.2% in April equaled the national rate, has dropped over the past two decades.

In January 2000, Georgia’s labor participation rate stood at 69.1%, above the national rate of 67.3%. In August 2008, the rate stood at 68.7%, exceeding the national average of 66.1%.

In the wake of the so-called Great Recession, the state’s labor participation rate and the national rate have continued to decline, dropping even more amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The state and national rates have followed similar trajectories and largely paralleled each other, though Georgia’s rate has ebbed and flowed more than the national rate.

Looking deeper into the data reveals that Georgia’s participation rate is below that of January 1976, the earliest number immediately available, when it was 63.7%, above the national rate of 61.3%.

“The primary reason for the decline in the labor force, stretching back to the Great Recession up to today, is an aging workforce,” Kersha Cartwright, director of communications for the state Department of Labor, told The Center Square. “Baby boomers have moved into the 55+ older age cohort and continue to drop from the labor force. Also, teenagers have dropped from the labor force in more recent years, witnessed by employers having difficulty filling such teen-driven summer jobs as lifeguarding and camp counselors.

“We have been hovering around 62% labor participation rate since the pandemic,” Cartwright added. “It was a little over 63% before the pandemic. Somewhat flat. It has never gotten back to the level it was before the Great Recession.”

Georgia’s number of jobs continued to grow to an all-time high of more than 4.7 million, up 18,100 from April and 244,100 over the year. The state also set an all-time high number of employed Georgians of more than 5.1 million, up 17,570 in May, while the state’s labor force was at an all-time high of more than 5.2 million, up 14,241 over the month.

“As the state continues to experience a very tight labor market, as evidenced by our low unemployment rate, our focus has been on encouraging more individuals to re-enter the workforce,” Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in an announcement. “Unless those who have chosen not to work decide they want to re-enter the workforce or more people move into the state, additional workers will be scarce.

“We have seen wages increase at an accelerated rate as employers compete for talent in the workplace,” Butler added. “As summer vacations ramp up, and with it more temporary jobs, we will continue to see ‘Please be patient’ signs as employers struggle to fill vacancies.”

By T.A. DeFeo | The Center Square contributor

The Georgia Virtue
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