Monday, November 23, 2015

Georgia posts very strong October employment numbers

Georgia reported 29,000 new nonfarm jobs in October 2015, its strongest one-month showing since February 2011, according to new seasonally adjusted data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The one-month increase was the fourth largest among all states trailing only California (41,200), Florida (35,200), and Ohio (30,800).

“We saw the state gain 29,000 jobs, which by the way, is much higher than we have been averaging,” according to Georgia State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler. “We have been averaging around 16,000 jobs during that same time period.”

The state’s overall strength in October was due to hiring in several sectors including Professional and Business Services (6,400), Retail (5,100), and Government (4,500).
The new employment compares favorably with an increase of 20,500 jobs posted for October 2014, and contrasts with the weak showing earlier in the spring and summer. BLS also revised its data for September, adding 4,400 more jobs to the preliminary report for Georgia, which boosted the state’s September net increase to 13,500.

Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stood at 5.7 percent in October, a drop of 1.1 percentage points from October 2014. The good news of a declining unemployment rate was tempered by the fact that the drop was partially attributable to a decline of 6,076 people in the labor force compared to the same time last year.

Over the past 12 months, the state’s nonfarm employment has grown by 97,100 jobs, which translated to a 2.3 percent annual increase and outpaced the nation’s 2.0 percent increase. The latest jobs picture fell below the numbers posted in October 2014 when the state’s then 12-month increase of 143,900 jobs translated to a 3.5 percent growth rate.

Over the most recent 12-month period, increases were notable in Professional and Business Services (20,500), Leisure and Hospitality (17,200), Education and Health Services (16,100), and Retail (15,600).

The Atlanta area continues to be the state’s job engine, contributing two-thirds of the state’s net new jobs, adding 19,300 jobs over the month. Since October 2014, the metro area has increased by 87,800 jobs, representing 90 percent of the state’s job growth. This translates to a 12-month increase of 3.5 percent.

In 2014, the strong growth in October was followed by increases at only half that rate in November and December. It remains to be seen if the pattern in 2015 will see a repeat with the most significant hiring occurring earlier in the holiday season (October) followed by smaller boosts to job growth in the last two months of the year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Education in Georgia: The first test results are not encouraging

Georgia has released its first set of test results from its new Georgia Milestones Assessment System.


The tests are meant to give educators and parents a better idea as to how well students are being prepared for their futures. The new tests replace the state’s old Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).

According to Georgia State Superintendent Richard Woods, “Under the CRCT, Georgia had some of the lowest expectations in the nation for its students. Too many students were labeled as proficient when, in reality, they had not fully mastered the standards and needed additional support. That hurt our kids, who need to be competitive with others across the country and hurt our teachers by making it difficult for them to have a true picture of the academic strengths and weakness of their students.”

While it is commendable that Georgia take a stronger interest in preparing its students for a competitive global workplace, the results from this first set of tests are not encouraging.

Using four levels of performance, students needed to score in one of the top two levels to show they were ready to advance to the next grade. For those subjects showing the best results (biology, U.S. history, and economics/business) at the high school level, fewer than 40 percent of students were ready to be promoted to the next grade level.

In mathematics, 38 to 39 percent of students across the state in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades were ready to be promoted. Unfortunately, this dropped down 34 percent when high school students were tested on their knowledge of coordinate algebra, and dropped to 33 percent when they were tested on analytic geometry.
Source: Georgia Department of Education

In English and language arts, the results were slightly better with 38 percent of 9th grade students passing literature and composition and 35 percent of high school students passing American literature and composition.

Employers consistently complain that new workers lack the skills needed to be productive. Companies are reluctant to spend the money to train workers knowing that once trained, these same workers can leave for better paying jobs.

That leaves it up to the state and individuals. If Georgia wants to compete in a global economy, the state has two choices. It can better prepare its future workforce for jobs that will demand greater verbal and mathematical skills, or it can continue to rely on attracting better trained workers from out of state as it has over the past decades. For example, in Atlanta, the engine of Georgia’s job growth, only a little more than half of its residents were born in Georgia.

The problem with this second approach is that it must then compete with the other 49 states, as well as other nations, to both attract companies to the state as well as people to staff those positions when they come to Georgia. The result can be a very expensive form of economic development; more expensive than building a world-class education system.

The role between education and economic development is clear. As a first step that recognizes the importance of education to the state’s economy, the Georgia Department of Education has hired an economic development specialist to work with business executives. It is a good start, but preparing students for those jobs by giving them the needed skills is vital.

Now that we have a more honest assessment of future employees’ skills, it is up to everyone in the state to choose whether to take the challenge or hope for the continued importation of skilled labor to meet Georgia employers’ future needs.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Work-related deaths and injuries on the rise in Georgia: A silent epidemic

Despite a 26 percent increase in one year, there has been practically no focus on the rising number of workers in Georgia who are dying and being injured at work.

In 2014, 148 workers died during job-related activities in the state, an increase of 31 over the year, according to preliminary reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nationally, the number of deaths rose by 94, an increase of 2 percent.


Violence on the job was a key factor in the rise in Georgia, with the number of work-related deaths due to intentional injury more than doubling over the year from 15 to 32. The number of work-related suicides rose from 6 to 14.

The sharp rise in violence contrasts with a very low increase in the number of roadway incidents that resulted in deaths, which have been the main cause of work-related fatalities in past years. In 2014, road deaths accounted for 36 fatalities, up by only 3 over 2013.

Other leading causes of work-related deaths in 2014 included falls (26 deaths), being struck by object or equipment (15 deaths), and nonroadway incidents involving motorized equipment (11 deaths).

Of the 148 total fatalities, 134 workers were employed in private industry while 14 deaths occurred to workers employed by governments in the state. This compares to the 117 deaths recorded in 2013, of which 108 were in private industry and 9 were in government.

For 2014, the increase in fatalities occurred among men, as the number of men dying on the job increased from 103 in 2013 to 136 in 2014. Deaths among female workers actually declined over the year from 14 to 12.

Nonfatal injuries and illnesses

Georgia workers suffered nonfatal injuries and illnesses at a rate of 2.9 per 100 equivalent full-time workers in 2014. While this remains below the national average of 3.2, it is an increase over 2013 when the state recorded a rate of 2.8.

In contrast, the U.S. recorded a decrease in the rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses, dropping from 3.3 per 100 equivalent full-time workers in 2013 to 3.2 in 2014.

Why the increase and why is it being ignored?

While Georgia focuses on job growth, the growing number of injuries and deaths goes unreported in the media and the state chooses not to highlight this growing epidemic.

In part this may be due to the state’s decision several years ago to move the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses and Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries from the Georgia Department of Labor to the state’s Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner. This office may not recognize the importance of the data or may choose to play down numbers, which they may feel reflect badly on the state's reputation.

While individual deaths are sometimes, but not always, reported in the media, it is hard for the casual reader or viewer to see the aggregated result or understand the trend. Nonfatal injuries and illnesses are much less likely to receive media attention, so they often remain "under the radar."

A harder question to answer is why are more people in Georgia getting injured and dying on the job?

Some of the increase in fatal and nonfatal injuries can be attributed to more workers returning to work after the recession. It is expected that with more people on the job, there are more possibilities for work-related injuries. Yet, Georgia’s job growth is only equal to the national average, while the number of fatal and nonfatal injuries and illnesses is growing faster than the U.S.

Even as the numbers grow, Georgia’s nonfatal injuries and illness rate is staying below the national average. Some of this lower rate reflects the state’s mix of industries, as the state moves towards an increasingly white-collar economy. Office jobs tend to have fewer serious injuries then those in traditional manufacturing, construction, and transportation industries.

More work needs to be done to determine why Georgia’s work-related deaths and injuries are increasing, but if the numbers are simply ignored, than there is no incentive to work to lower them.

For workers and their families, each person who goes to work each day expects to come home alive and uninjured. For more Georgia families, that appears to be a false expectation.