Georgia’s job numbers are still significantly down from a year ago, but the state has now recovered about half the jobs that vanished with the COVID-19 shutdown this spring, according to University of Georgia economic forecaster Jeff Humphreys.
“I’m impressed. I did not expect the recovery to be that strong,” said Humphreys, director of the Simon S. Selig, Jr. Center for Economic Growth in UGA’s Terry College of Business.
The spring shutdown plunged the state and U.S. economies into recession with unprecedented speed. Georgia’s unemployment rate quadrupled in two months, from 3.1 percent in February to 12.6 percent in April.
But in August, state unemployment dropped to 5.6 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, and nationwide unemployment was 8.4 percent, according to federal data.
Several states still have double-digit unemployment, led by Nevada at 13.4 percent.
For a number of reasons, the unemployment figures understate the number of people who lost jobs in the swift recession. Some of those who lost employment are no longer actively seeking work, for example, Humphreys said.
The state nonfarm labor force stood at about 4.4 million in August, better than July but down about 4.2 percent from August, 2019, when more than 4.6 million held jobs, according to Georgia Department of Labor statistics.
The unemployment rate in the Athens Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) — Clarke, Oconee, Madison and Oglethorpe counties — was 4.7 percent, down from 11.1 percent in April.
About 92,500 people were working at jobs in the Athens MSA last month, down 3.6 percent from the nearly 96,000 of August 2019, according to the state statistics.
The damage was heavier in some other Georgia MSAs, however.
Hardest-hit is the tourism-heavy economy of Brunswick MSA— Glynn, McIntosh and Brantley counties, including cities and towns such as Nahunta, Brunswick, St. Simons and Darien.
The Brunswick unemployment rate in August was 5.7 percent, down from 16.2 percent in April.
About 38,600 people were working in the Brunswick MSA in August, down 15.2 percent from August 2019.
Some MSAs had nearly the same job counts as August 2019. The Rome MSA’s job count was up .2 percent. The job count in the Hinesville area, strongly tied to the Fort Stewart Army base, was up .5 percent from a year earlier while Valdosta was down 1.2 percent.
The economic recovery is now slowing, however, Humphreys said.
“I think that strong bounce is behind us and now it will be a slog,” he said.
Once a COVID-19 vaccine become becomes widely available or there’s a treatment breakthrough, Humphreys expects strong growth, perhaps next summer.
Like others, Humphreys expects COVID-19 to surge again this fall and winter as cold temperatures force people indoors.
“It would just be devastating to shut down again,” however, he said.
We’ll come back after the pandemic to a changed, more digitized economy, he said, with more telemedicine and more touchless payments, among other things. The pandemic also accelerated the continuing shift to online retail shopping, he said.
“A lot of that is going to stick,” he predicted.
That means we’ll get the benefits of these shifts sooner, according to Humphreys.
“I see this as a huge plus for the economy,” he said. “I think the medical benefits will be tremendous.”