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Georgia jobs should be top priority for legislature

When the legislature convenes next week, the number one focus should be on job creation for Georgia – not the budget. Budget should be a close second.

It is important that Georgia get its spending in line, but at this point, with unemployment remaining intractably high, further drastic budget cuts are not what we need. The state has already cut and cut and laid off, and cuts are to the bone in many areas. Rooting out waste is always welcome, but we still need people working for the DOT, the parks or the State Patrol, and we need Georgians at work.

Something is surely rotten in the Peach State where it comes to jobs. The nation as a whole continues to struggle with unemployment, but in Georgia the problem is dishearteningly acute. Based on recent Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, Georgia appears to have a solid claim to the very worst employment environment in the nation.

Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and crunched by the New York Times ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia in three jobs categories: How much employment has grown since each state’s low point in the economic downturn that began in 2009; The change since the pre-2009 peak in each state’s employment figures; The change since November 2010.

Georgia was respectively 51st in job creation since the low point; 47th since the peak and 50th in jobs created since November 2010.

Georgia was the only state to be in the bottom five in all three categories.

What this shows is that even as other states that lived and died by real estate and homebuilding have managed to get something else rolling to soften the blow, Georgia has not.

Georgia, particularly in former-growth areas like Pickens County and North Georgia, had all its eggs in one basket: new homes. Our unemployment rate in this part of the state was 9.6 percent in latest state figures, down from 11 percent a year ago – an improvement hardly worth noting.

According to Labor Department figures, Georgia’s job market was first slammed by the fact homebuilding dried up in Dixie. But unlike Florida and Arizona, who also rode high on home construction that began in the late 1990s, Georgia doesn’t seem to be able to find another path.

Further, Georgia has worked harder at trimming public jobs, which is good for yearly budgets but bad for those looking for work. Local government jobs in our state have been cut back about three percent, according to Labor statistics. Nationwide, the number of jobs in government has been trimmed to 2006 levels.

You can see this clearly in Pickens County, where the schools have been able to hold the line on taxes despite state cutbacks, by eliminating almost 100 positions between 2008 and 2011. The system reduced its employees from 766 in October of 2008 to 673 in September of 2011.

With private industry struggling to pick up the slack, we need a plan to see that when we cut from public payrolls in Georgia there is somewhere else to turn for employment. If state and local governments cut to save taxpayers in one step but add to unemployment rolls in the next, we’re no better off and likely much worse––depending on the skills of those hired/fired and other job particulars.

Early budget figures for the upcoming legislative session, presented by the governor, seek another two percent in cuts following massive cuts last year. We hope the legislature will look at the employment impact of such cuts and find a happy medium that won’t worsen the jobs situation.

We’re not arguing for the state and schools to maintain bloated bureaucracies forever just to keep Georgians off the dole, but we are strongly encouraging the legislature, when it convenes next week, to think jobs first, budget second during this General Assembly.


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