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Jobless numbers hold steady
Thurmond: Figures could show the end of the beginning for the economic downturn
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ATLANTA — The Georgia Department of Labor reported that the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in March, unchanged from a revised 9.2 percent in February. The “unchanged” March unemployment rate is significant because this is the first time in 20 months that the rate did not increase over the previous month.

“With apologies to Sir Winston Churchill, the better-than-expected March jobless rate does not represent the end of this recession,” said State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. “It is not even the beginning of the end. However, it may be the end of the beginning of the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression.”

An array of monthly employment statistics presents a conflicting picture of a job market struggling to regain its footing.  

The March jobless rate of 9.2 was up 3.6 percentage points from 5.6 percent at this same time last year. Georgia’s unemployment rate also remained above the national rate of 8.5 percent for the 17th consecutive month.  The number of payroll jobs in March decreased 185,900, or 4.5 percent from March of 2008. The over-the-year losses came in manufacturing and construction, trade, transportation and warehousing, along with professional and business services, including temporary employment agencies.

Despite the year-over-year loss of jobs, Georgia managed to add 3,000 new jobs in March, the first monthly increase since October 2008. A majority of the new jobs were created in the retail and hospitality sectors. During the first two weeks of April, initial jobless claims in Georgia, which have sustained over-the-year triple-digit increases, grew at about one-half that pace. Initial claims are generally considered to be a leading indicator of future economic activity.

At present, 442,758 unemployed Georgians are looking for work, an increase of 64.1 percent over the year. Of that number, 172,947, or 39.1 percent, are receiving state unemployment insurance benefits, while another 84,700 are receiving federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation.