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A tale of two Georgia's

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Atlanta soars; state struggles

Jobs data paint stark contrast


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The two Georgias are again diverging: job growth in metro Atlanta and layoffs elsewhere.

The state's economy last year had a net gain of 64,000 jobs -- the second-best performance in the nation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday. Yet just about all the jobs were in metro Atlanta.

At the same time, the state earned the distinction of being second in job cuts: Mass layoffs -- those involving 50 or more workers -- surged during 2003, the BLS reported last week.

Those cuts amounted to 7,121 more jobless claims than the total of large-scale layoffs the year before. Only New York did worse.

Some metro areas, including Savannah, have added jobs. But the national malaise in manufacturing has taken a steady toll in Georgia, too. A series of plant closings -- like Brown & Williamson in Macon and Flint River Textiles in Albany -- continues to tug on the economy.

"The rest of the state is really struggling," said Michael Wald, regional economist for the BLS. "You really are getting the two Georgias in the numbers again."

During the past decade, about 70 percent of Georgia's job growth was in metro Atlanta. But in the past year, it was nearly 100 percent.

December data for Atlanta are not yet available. But for the 12 months ended in November, Atlanta added 68,100 jobs, Wald said.

"The economy is recovering fast in Atlanta," he said. "But metro Atlanta and the state are moving in different directions."

Only Florida, with 114,600 new jobs, outpaced Georgia as the national pendulum swung from job loss to gain. Annual employment gains were recorded in 27 states, according to the BLS.

Most of the other states reported job losses for the year. The worst drops came in Michigan -- down 78,800 -- followed by Ohio, Massachusetts and South Carolina.

A better labor market is seen as key to indicators such as consumer confidence. By most measures, the consumer outlook has been making progress, albeit erratically, since early summer. After a dip in December, confidence rose in January, the Conference Board reported Tuesday.

National job gains began late last summer, sparked by massive injections of cash from tax rebates, military spending and a frenzy of refinancing. But the number of jobs created has been disappointing: just 278,000 in five months. The "quality" of those jobs is also in doubt.

Georgia has apparently made its way toward the front of the pack by producing mostly jobs that pay less than those lost during the recession of 2001, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the forecasting center at Georgia State University.

Higher pay -- wages as well as benefits -- gives consumers more punch, and they account for nearly 70 percent of the economy.

For them to keep spending, job growth, of course, is essential, but that is not enough, Dhawan said. "It's the quality of the jobs that matters."

Income grew 1.1 percent in the third quarter of last year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Tuesday.

That was up from 1 percent in the second quarter and 0.8 percent during the first quarter.

During the third quarter, Georgia income surged 1.6 percent -- the nation's seventh-best gain.

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