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Unemployment figures can skew job outlook, labor chief says

How unemployment figures can mislead

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler urged Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce members to disregard misleading unemployment percentages and focus on the numbers behind the equation to see the whole picture. Video by Liz Fabian
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Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler urged Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce members to disregard misleading unemployment percentages and focus on the numbers behind the equation to see the whole picture. Video by Liz Fabian

They say numbers don’t lie, but when it comes to Georgia’s unemployment picture, the government report does not always tell the whole truth.

At Tuesday’s “Good Morning Macon” meeting at the Douglass Theatre, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said the number of actual available jobs can be much higher than what is measured through U.S. Department of Labor surveys.

Last month in the Macon area, federal figures showed 500 jobs lost, Butler said. During the same time period, the state’s employgeorgia.com website showed that 1,500 jobs were available in this area.

“It actually gives us a lot of real-time, really good data,” he said.

The unemployment rate, or percentage of the workforce without a job, can also be misleading, depending on how many people are actually looking for work.

Workforce measures those people who have jobs and those who are looking.

“If you don’t want to work, I’m not going to count you because that’s not part of the workforce,” Butler said.

There are months when job losses and layoffs go up, yet the unemployment rate goes down, he said. Other times the reverse is true.

“It’s a math equation, that’s about all it is,” Butler told members of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce. “It really doesn’t tell you what’s going on in your economy. That’s the problem.”

He urged them to take a look at the numbers behind that percentage.

So far this year in Georgia, the state has gained about 95,000 more people in the workforce since January.

“That means people are excited. They’re seeing the jobs. They come back out there and they’re looking,” Butler said.

In the Macon area over the past 60 days, Butler saw almost 2,600 active job openings through the website.

About half of those jobs require only a high school diploma or trade certification.

Those pieces of paper won’t land you a job, though, unless you have interview skills to get hired.

“How many of you have had a job applicant show up in their pajamas?” Butler asked the more than 50 businessmen and women at the meeting.

Several of them raised their hands.

“How can you not know to not show up in your pajamas? How can you not know not to answer your cellphone in a job interview?” Butler asked.

Soft skills, or what Butler’s grandfather called “common sense,” can be a more valuable asset for job seekers.

Macon architect Gene Dunwody Sr. agreed.

“You can teach people technical skills, but you can’t teach them soft skills,” Dunwody said from the audience.

Students must be made aware of the manufacturing and trade opportunities available that pay more than positions requiring a college degree, Butler said.

He hears from people every day who have trouble filling jobs, which resonated with his audience.

“I can tell you there’s no issue that our membership cares more about than the workforce,” said chamber board chairman and attorney George Greer, who introduced Butler.

The commissioner wants to hear about employers’ struggles to find good workers so changes can be made.

He encouraged the audience to keep him abreast of their issues that could adversely affect the economy.

“If we don’t know, we can’t fix it.”

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303, @liz_lines

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