The unemployment rate dropped by more than a percentage point in Bulloch County during the past year, just as it did in Georgia overall.
However, local unemployment remains higher than statewide unemployment, and official estimates of the active Bulloch County work force shrank from January 2013 to January 2014.
Local human resources managers see people looking for work on the one hand and businesses struggling to find qualified people on the other. Today at 10 a.m., the Statesboro Area Society for Human Resource Management is hosting a "State of Employment in Bulloch County" panel discussion in the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center at Georgia Southern University.
It isn't a job fair. But the free, public discussion should touch topics of immediate interest to unemployed and underemployed people, such as resume preparation and job interviews, as well as workforce development issues important to the whole community, said GSU Employment Services Director Demetrius Bynes, who is leading the discussion.
Representatives of Briggs & Stratton, Brodie International, Viracon and the city of Statesboro were slated to serve as panel members.
"We want to send that message, that there are employment opportunities out there but you have to have the necessary skill set in order to be considered," Bynes said.
Good news about Georgia's employment picture continues to develop. In February, statewide unemployment edged down to 7.1 percent from 7.3 percent in January. The number of jobs increased to 4,036,700 in February, up by 6,600, or 0.2 percent, from 4,030,100 in January.
Over the course of a year, the state has experienced a more dramatic 1.4-point improvement in unemployment, from 8.5 percent in February 2013.
"This is the eighth month in a row that Georgia's unemployment rate has declined," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced last week. "The rate dropped in February because Georgia employers created nearly 7,000 new jobs and reduced the number of new layoffs more than 30 percent."
Not yet available, county-level rates from February are scheduled to be released later this week. Bulloch County's unemployment increased to 8.3 percent in the initial January report from a revised December rate of 7.9 percent, but had improved dramatically since the 9.7 percent rate of January 2013.
Meanwhile, the estimated size of Bulloch County's labor force shrank from 33,394 residents employed or looking for work in January 2013 to 32,227 in December. But the labor force total rebounded a little, to 32,423 in January 2014. That included 29,737 employed people plus 2,686 unemployed but counted as looking.
From January to January, that amounts to a loss of 917 people from the estimated labor force, or 2.9 percent shrinkage.
John Ard, Georgia Department of Labor senior communications specialist, cautioned that the labor force estimates are not actual counts. A monthly, nationwide telephone survey of households is used, in addition to unemployment insurance claims and information from employers. The Census Bureau conducts the Current Population Survey for the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We don't know that anybody in Bulloch County was called" in a particular month, Ard said.
When a declining unemployment rate coincides with shrinkage in the reported labor force on a national scale, this is often said to reflect discouraged people abandoning their job searches. But the county data is not that definitive, according to Ard.
"A person cannot say it is any one thing that causes your labor force to go down one month and then up the next," he said. "Bulloch, as you look at it, it was down over the year but up over the month, so that may be a sign that people are more encouraged in Bulloch to look for a job. ... It may mean that some people didn't think they could find a job, so they went back to college. So you don't know."
A large university can have a big effect on its community's numbers as students move in and out of the labor force for semesters and breaks, Ard added. Of the more than 6,000 jobs at Bulloch County's largest employer, Georgia Southern University, about 2,200 are filled by students, said Bynes. That figure, of course, does not include GSU students who work off campus for other employers.
Jobless claims drop
Unemployment rates are a lagging economic indicator. For a leading indicator — one that may show where things are going instead of where they have been — Ard suggested looking at data on initial unemployment insurance claims. For these, county numbers from February were already available.
Bulloch County had 202 initial jobless claims in February, down from 416 in January, a 51.4 percent drop. But these numbers, especially when looking at a single county, often fluctuate dramatically month to month. Bulloch County had 266 initial claims for unemployment in February 2013, so the February to February annual decline was 24.1 percent. Either way, the trend was toward fewer job losses.
The Georgia Department of Labor's Statesboro Career Center, at 62 Packinghouse Road, provides resources for preparing resumes and other help for job seekers, in addition to being a place to file claims for unemployment insurance. The center's phone number is (912) 681-5156.