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Don't Get Too Happy Over Holiday Job Rates
Unemployment rates are likely to drop during the next few weeks. But don't get too jolly over the joyful jobless news.

"Unemployment is cyclical," said Doug Bachtel, a professor of housing and consumer economics for the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

"During the holidays, unemployment rates tend to be lower because of the huge demand in the retail sector," he said.

"For a while, Georgia has suffered from an employment shortage," he said, "and retailers have had to grab any warm body they can -- vacationing teachers and students, anybody -- to work during the busy holiday season."

However, Bachtel warned, "there are those who believe the pending recession will hit Georgia hard."

Georgia's Diversified Economy Softens Blow

Georgia usually fares well in hard times because of a diversified economy. The hardest-hit part is likely to be rural areas, where the economy depends precariously on agriculture.

"Rural Georgia will be hurt really badly," Bachtel predicted. "The state has a diversified economy, but rural Georgia doesn't. They are dependent on a boom-or-bust agricultural economy."

"The economic problems currently are in crop farming," said UGA economist Bill Givan. "Livestock prices are pretty good."

Crop farming is done mostly below Macon. Peanut growers are faring well and tobacco farmers a little less so. "Cotton and grains are facing low prices," he said. "But government payments will help."

In general, Givan said, "rural Georgia dependent on crop farming is having a tough time."

Employment Rates Hit 20-Year High

A recent Georgia Department of Labor report shows Georgia's unemployment numbers already growing. More than 65,220 Georgians filed initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits in October. These claims pushed the state's jobless rate up to 4.2 percent from 4.0 percent in September.

The new claims are 98 percent more than the 32,980 workers who filed initial claims in October 2000, when the rate was 3.7 percent.

"The effects of Sept. 11 are clearly indicated in these numbers," said State Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond. "While these layoffs are concentrated in several industries, there are some fields for which employers are actually hiring. Those include an array of positions in health services, education, retail and law enforcement."

Thurmond encourages people who've lost their jobs to remember the seasonal jobs available around the holidays. "While the available jobs may not represent the ideal," Thurmond said, "people are usually better served to accept temporary employment until the job they really want comes along."

On a month-to-month basis, the number of unemployment claims went up by 23,147, or 55 percent, from September. Most of the claims were filed in construction, business services, textile manufacturing, transportation and in hotels and restaurants.

"If you compare the employment rates across the country, some will argue that an unemployment rate of just over 4 percent is full employment," Bachtel said. "We are still going through the good times. It's going to definitely get worse."

Military Money Boosts Economy

The bad economic times in Georgia's rural areas are, at least temporarily, bolstered by the flurry of military activity.

"The military has a big effect on our economy because we have major military spending in this state," Bachtel said. "It plays a very big role in the stabilization of the economy."

And it's a pretty safe bet for Georgians, he said.

"Ft. Benning is a training area. Ft. Stewart is a staging area for deployment. Kings Bay was the largest peacetime construction project in U.S. history. Others are specialized -- Ft. Gordon is home to the signal corps -- not installations likely to get cut in federal budget cuts," he said.

"If you're a supplier of goods to the military, you're doing pretty good right now," he said. "But the biggest effect of the war is on consumer confidence. It seems to have sparked a rise in the stock market, so who knows?"

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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