The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.
The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed’s Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.
Postings are weekly.
Southeastern States Mind the (Skills) Gap
During the past few years, we have heard from a significant number of regional business contacts about the challenges they experience filling certain positions and concerns about a skills gap facing the Southeast. We heard this from various industries, most often about engineering, construction, and IT jobs. The most recent Southeastern Insights mentions this widespread issue.
This skills shortage situation is not unique to the Southeast. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation published a state-by-state analysis last month measuring performance in a number of areas that contribute to economic prosperity. Their key conclusion reiterates our contacts’ concerns: that mounting skilled-labor shortages are on the horizon to such an extent that they may soon hinder economic growth. According to the study, the current skills gap dilemma is expected to grow substantially as baby boomers retire.
Fortunately, there’s a bright side: many states have recognized this situation and have taken steps to address the ostensibly approaching workforce crisis. Many of our contacts from both private and public sectors pointed to joint initiatives created by states and businesses designed to confront and abate the situation; which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study says is essential to closing the gaps. Below is a sample, extracted from the study, of some of the efforts Sixth District states have taken:
- In 2013, the state launched a College and Career Ready Task Force charged with identifying ways to better prepare students for the workforce by training them in the skills demanded by growing industries across the state.
- New and expanding businesses can get workforce development services through the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which offers services to businesses in need of skilled workers, including preemployment selection and training, leadership development courses, and third-party process improvement assessments.
- The Alabama Technology Network provides skills training for the manufacturing and high technology workforce. The network connects businesses to the portfolio of training resources and programs provided by the state’s colleges and universities, offering services through regional centers.
- The Go Build Alabama initiative works to attract talented workers to construction and skilled trades.
- Quick Response Training enables new and expanding businesses in need of training to partner with community colleges and other educational institutions in the state to develop and deliver workforce training programs.
- The Incumbent Worker Training program supports training the existing workforce to enhance and maintain competitiveness.
- The Career and Professional Education Act guides Florida’s efforts to diversify its economy and develop a more skilled workforce by encouraging collaboration among education, industry, workforce, and economic development stakeholders from across the state.
- In early 2014, the state approved a $44.7 million Science Learning Center on the University of Georgia’s South Campus, providing state-of-the-art facilities aimed at expanding the pipeline for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (often referred to collectively as STEM).
- Groundbreaking also took place for the Georgia BioScience Training Center, which will support training for companies that choose to locate within the state. Georgia Quick Start, the state’s job training program, will build and operate the state-of-the-art biotech training center.
- Via the Small Business Employee Training Program, employers can receive up to $3,000 to defray the costs of off-the-shelf training programs for an existing employee.
- The Louisiana Workforce Commission established Workforce Partners to recognize businesses that have committed to building a “job ready” workforce in the state through support and training.
- The Strategies to Empower People program provides access to job training, job readiness support, vocational education programs, and a variety of other skills-development services for those receiving government assistance.
- The Workforce Investment Network consists of more than 60 training and employment centers around the state where employers and job seekers can access services like training, job postings, on-the-job training programs, employment screening services, and job placement assistance.
- The Mississippi Development Authority also maintains a team of workforce specialists who work with colleges, businesses, workforce development professionals, and other stakeholders to identify resources useful to a particular business. The authority also builds partnerships to pursue needed training services.
- The University of Mississippi maintains a Professional and Workforce Development program, offering online enrichment courses, certification programs, and outreach services, bringing tailored training programs directly to the employer.
- The Tennessee Job Skills grant program offers support to technology companies that create “high-skill, high-wage” jobs, reimbursing eligible costs incurred in training development implementation.
- Entrepreneurs in need of quick turnaround in receiving support for training costs can make use of the state’s Job Based Training Reimbursement program, which provides support within the first 90 days after a new job is created and training starts.
- The FastTrack Job Training Assistance Program offers employers state support to cover costs for classroom instruction, on-the-job training, training-related travel, training vendors, and development of training materials and programming.
Sixth District states appear to be on a solid track to address skills gap challenges, combining investment in training, education, and business assistance as a long-term workforce development strategy. Time will tell if the investment pays off (we should know sooner rather than later, as boomers are expected to start retiring in droves).
To learn more about states’ efforts, as well as their rankings across five policy areas—talent pipeline, exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship, business climate, and infrastructure—check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s study. There’s also a nifty interactive map you can use to view state rankings and data easily.
By Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch
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A City of Big Ideas
Here in the Southeast, a buzz has been growing around the idea of innovation. In my hometown, Atlanta, startups have been popping up like weeds. What makes Atlanta a good place to innovate? To start, Atlanta is home to a number of top-tier universities and colleges, including Emory University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Agnes Scott College, and Georgia Tech, which U.S. News recently ranked fifth in the country for engineering. The city also boasts one of the fastest-growing urban populations in the country and a cost of living below the national average.
Among recent developments, a study done by the Kaufmann Foundation ranked Atlanta second in the nation in entrepreneurial activity. As well, Georgia companies drew in more than $116 million in venture capital funding in the first quarter of 2014, compared with $46 million just two years earlier. On top of it all, Forbes magazine placed Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) on its list of the top 12 Business Incubators Changing the World. So what’s the deal? Is Atlanta becoming the next Silicon Valley? Why has innovation been the buzzword of the last decade here?
A growing consensus holds that innovation is the key to economic growth in developed economies. Innovation enables firms to become more productive and thus increase output without increasing the amount of inputs (labor, capital, etc.). Throughout modern history, the kings of all innovations are the game changers, sometimes referred to as general-purpose technologies. Game changers include inventions including the steam engine, electrical power and, more recently, information and communication technology. Juan Moreno-Cruz, an assistant professor in the school of economics at Georgia Tech, noted that although you can’t always recognize a game changer right away; “there are small things that combine that make general-purpose technologies important.”
Without the small things, general-purpose technologies never become significant, and it’s here that start-ups become important. Stephen Fleming, vice president for economic development and technology ventures and executive director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) at Georgia Tech, says that, “Innovation is the reason that they exist.” Part of Fleming’s role is to oversee Georgia Tech’s ATDC, one of the nation’s oldest—it was founded in 1980—and largest business incubators attached to a university. Throughout the years, it has graduated more than 150 companies, which together have acquired over $2 billion in outside financing. “We shelter them from the ups and downs of the market,” says Fleming. “We do this for a while so that the company does not die from the downs.” But how exactly does the ATDC foster innovation in their start-ups? “We allow them the chance to fail.”
This is one of the many things that Fleming feels the U.S. does right. “There is a difference between being a failure and failing. If you fail, you just had a very expensive education on what not to do.” This holds true even for established small and medium-sized enterprises. “Let your people try stuff!” A survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers asked CEOs which elements are some of the “most important ingredients to successful innovation,” and 57 percent of respondents agreed: “the right culture to foster and support innovation.” Meanwhile, 37 percent also responded by citing a “willingness to challenge norms and take risks.”
So, back to the question at hand: Is Atlanta becoming the next Silicon Valley? Fleming (wearing his “No Valley” button) would answer no; we’re becoming a better version of Silicon Valley that is welcoming to small companies. He points out four parts of our innovation ecosystem that make Atlanta a great place to innovate right now: First, the city has top-tier talent from all of the schools mentioned above. Second, unlike Silicon Valley, the city has the customers for the companies (Atlanta ranks third in the nation among cities with the most Fortune 500 headquarters). Third, customers who aren’t here are just a nonstop flight away, thanks to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Fourth and final, Atlanta has plenty of capital to work with.
It’s certainly a compelling case, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.
By Trevor Lindsay, an economic intern in the Atlanta Fed’s research department
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Is the Southeast Poised for Tourism Growth?
The Atlanta Fed's Travel and Tourism Advisory Council met at the Miami Branch for the first time this year on April 17. Overall, council members were enthusiastic about economic activity, and its benefits for the tourism sector, in the Southeast.
Georgia and Alabama bounced back from harsh weather conditions in January and February. The outlook for the next three months is positive, with contacts reporting a strong number of bookings and ticket sales. Florida's tourism benefited from the winter weather with travelers seeking warm weather or extending stays as a result of cancelled flights. Fort Lauderdale, in particular, indicated record numbers in February and March.
The Southeast experienced an increase in international tourist activity in 2013, primarily from Latin America and Europe. Participants noted domestic travelers were travel fatigued and are staying closer to home. Consumer spending increased from a year ago, not only in hotel and food expenditures but in retail stores as well. The increase in spending came primarily from luxury restaurants and hotels.
On the horizon for regional travel and tourism
The council discussed the increase in capital expenditures across the region, reporting heavy construction activity in new hotels, sports venues, and other attractions in addition to renovations of restaurants, hotels, and convention centers.
Technology enhancements continue to significantly affect the industry and are being implemented across many segments of the industry. For example, customers can now complete ticket sales for theme parks, sporting events, and other entertainment events as well as reservations for dinner or special services such as spa treatments prior to traveling. Travelers can electronically handle requests for food orders, hotel check-in, beach chair reservations, and maintenance requests once they have reached their destination. (Don't be surprised to find yourself handed an iPad upon arrival at your hotel to facilitate check-ins and any other needs during your stay.)
Tourism markets expand
Interestingly, the council indicated that families are using children's sporting events—like traveling little leagues—as their family vacation. In response to this growing market, the industry is developing special venues and events for these groups to include family- and sports-oriented activities.
The state of Florida is promoting itself as a destination for medical treatment as a way to expand its customer travel industry. The state is proposing legislation to require VISIT FLORIDA, the State's official marketing corporation, to market Florida as a medical destination. Business contacts in the health care field are also heavily marketing health care in the state to countries with an underdeveloped health care sector.
All that said, the travel and tourism sector looks promising in the near term, and new industry developments should enhance the vacation experience for those about to visit the Southeast.By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, an economic and financial education specialist in the Miami Branch of the Atlanta Fed
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Regional Payroll Growth Rebounds in March
According to last week's regional and state employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Sixth District states added 41,500 payrolls on net in March, and the unemployment rate rose slightly from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent. This month's release also came with an upward revision to February data that indicated the District added 40,500 jobs that month, about 6,100 payrolls higher than the original February estimate. The table gives a state-by-state breakdown of payroll revisions:
The new March data and revised February data appear to be another step in the right direction and perhaps give a somewhat stronger signal that the region's labor markets are gaining some traction after experiencing a few months of slower job growth earlier in the year, a pattern not uncommon over the last few years. Not surprisingly, we've seen a similar pattern in the national data as well (see the chart).
Once again, Florida was the primary driver of Sixth District payroll growth in March, adding 22,900 payrolls, with Georgia seeing a nice rebound (up 14,600) from February's negative payroll growth (when it was down 5,800). The only state to lose jobs from February to March was Mississippi, which shed 1,400 payrolls. This was the fourth straight month of net payroll losses in that state.
Florida's net payroll gain was the largest one-month addition of any state in the nation, according to the BLS report, and was driven by the leisure and hospitality sector (up 9,500), health care (up 3,300), construction (up 1,900) and manufacturing (up 1,500), and Georgia's net payroll gain—the third-largest of any U.S. state—was driven by retail (up 3,800), the professional and business services sector (up 3,300), and health care (up 3,200).
As for other District states, Tennessee experienced a modest gain in payrolls in March, adding 4,200 jobs. With the largest revision of any Sixth District state, Tennessee's February net payrolls were revised up 3,400 payrolls for a total of 10,300 payrolls. Tennessee's payroll growth over the two-month period of February and March was primarily concentrated in professional and business services (up 6,800 payrolls). Louisiana and Alabama respectively added 900 and 300 jobs in March (see the chart).
The aggregate unemployment rate for the Sixth District rose from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent in March. Half of the six District states experienced an increase in their unemployment rates (Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi), and Louisiana's rate remained unchanged, Georgia's fell from 7.1 percent to 7.0 percent, and Tennessee's fell from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent (see the table).
Want to find out how many jobs it would take to lower the unemployment rate in any of the 50 states? Check out the Atlanta Fed's State Jobs Calculator.
The BLS's next regional and state employment report, which will reflect April data, will be released May 16.
By Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch
Mark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department
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Georgia, Tennessee Lead Regional Payroll Growth in November
In November, 45 states had unemployment rate decreases, and the other five had no change, according to the monthly regional and state employment and unemployment summary from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). All the states in the Atlanta Fed’s district were among those 45 states that saw declines in their unemployment rates, with the unemployment rates in both Georgia and Tennessee falling 0.4 percentage points (to 7.7 percent and 8.1 percent, respectively). The Sixth District aggregate unemployment rate fell 0.3 percentage points to reach 7.0 percent, mirroring the trend and level of the national unemployment rate in November.
Georgia and Tennessee saw the largest growth in payrolls in the Sixth District in November as well, according to the same report. Georgia added 14,500 payrolls in November (see the table), with roughly a third of those new payrolls being in the construction industry (up 4,400 payrolls). Roughly another third of Georgia’s job gains were in transportation and warehousing industries (up 4,100 payrolls), and the other third of Georgia’s payroll growth in November was split between leisure and hospitality (up 2,900 payrolls) and financial activities (up 1,700 payrolls). Employment growth in real estate was notable last month (up 1,200 payrolls). Tennessee added 9,400 payrolls in November, with about 2,500 of those payrolls in the leisure and hospitality sector and another 1,900 in durable goods–manufacturing industries.
Three Sixth District states have unemployment rates higher than the national level of unemployment (Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi), and three sit below (Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana; see the chart).
The BLS will release metropolitan area employment and unemployment data for November, which will provide an even more granular view of regional labor markets, on Tuesday, January 7, 2014, at 10 a.m.
By Mark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s research department
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Water, Water Everywhere: An Update on the Georgia Economy
Well, it appears that Georgia now has a monsoon season. And that season is apparently now. The National Weather Service estimates that in the first seven months of the year, 45.8 inches of rain fell in Atlanta, already putting us well ahead of 2012’s total rainfall. Only seven years on record have had more rain so early in the year. And rain brings with it some friends, some more welcome than others. Mosquitoes and snakes are purportedly starting to make their way out in greater numbers. But, even if the sun isn’t literally shining much on the Peach State, things are starting to look a lot brighter on the economic front.
Georgia has seen a solid bout of employment gains so far this year, as economic headwinds diminish and hiring becomes more widespread. Growth has been led by remarkable strength in business services employment, a broad sector that includes things like administrative services, temporary help, and technical and scientific services.
The employment expansion has become increasingly broad-based, as the chart below depicts. In this chart, each bubble represents a sector—with the circumference of the bubble reflecting the relative size of that sector’s employment in the state. Each bubble’s location in the graph shows that sector’s employment momentum: the farther a sector is to the right, the stronger the 12-month performance, the closer to the top, the stronger the three-month performance. So, for example, business services—which employs more Georgians than any other single sector—is in the upper right-hand quadrant, indicating that it has been expanding on a year-over-year basis and has also been picking up speed over the three months ending in June. In fact, most sectors have been drifting toward the expanding territory recently, with the notable exception of employment in the federal government, which is still markedly contracting (though the number of federal government employees in the state actually grew in June for the first time since September 2012).
To show the state’s employment progress over time, the “snail trail” chart below tracks the movement of the state’s employment momentum since before the recession. Each point represents one month of data, with the path starting at the green dot in January 2007 and tracking to the most recent data point in blue. After spending a good deal of time contracting and expanding modestly, the state’s employment is on roughly a 2 percent path on both a 12-month and three-month basis and back near where it was in January 2007.
What’s more, manufacturing and construction—the two sectors that shrank the most (by a lot) during the recession—are both poised for progress.
Georgia, like other states in the Southeast, has proven to be well positioned to benefit from the changing landscape of global manufacturing. The state has seen several announcements of plans for new manufacturing facilities recently, drawing in manufacturers eager to seize on the Peach State’s relatively low energy costs and strong foundation of technical and logistical support. Though advanced manufacturing is very automated (read: doesn’t create as many jobs as in the past), the jobs that are created tend to pay relatively well, and the business investment and concentration of output stemming from these operations help to boost the local economy through other streams—building, transportation, maintenance, etc.
And construction isn’t just picking up on the commercial front; home building has also been on the upswing in the state. Permits for new residential construction were up more than 50 percent from the beginning of the year in May. And Atlanta Fed business contacts in the Southeast continue to report that home construction is picking up speed (see the chart).
All told, the state’s economy is still far from fully recovered, but the recent progress is certainly a welcome sign. So while the rain may be to blame for all the creepy-crawlers that are coming out, I, for one, am seeing some sun starting to peek through the clouds.
By Laurel Graefe, Atlanta Fed REIN director
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'Tis the Season to Seasonally Adjust
I have a long commute. (This is Atlanta—who doesn’t?) During my trek into the office last week, I heard an alarming account on the radio about Georgia’s unemployment rate. The report noted that the state’s unemployment rate had jumped to 9.3 percent in June—its highest level in nearly a year. Thankfully, I’m kind of a data geek and I reckoned that this figure was the nonseasonally adjusted number. The radio report didn’t mention that detail, but it’s a pretty important one. Here’s why.
Economists refrain from reading too much into month-to-month fluctuations in nonseasonally adjusted data. Rather, they tend to look at data that are seasonally adjusted. It’s not a trick or a way to spin the data. It is a statistically sound method that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “eliminates the influences of weather, holidays, the opening and closing of schools, and other recurring seasonal events from economic time series. This permits easier observation and analysis of cyclical, trend, and other nonseasonal movements in the data. By eliminating seasonal fluctuations, the series becomes smoother and it is easier to compare data from month to month.”
Labor market data are particularly susceptible to the influence of seasonal factors during the summer months. Think of the school year: New graduates entering the labor force, teachers off for the summer, school administrators and maintenance workers scaling back, etc. These workers return later in the summer when school reopens (something my kids are dreading, by the way). Other seasonal factors affect the data at other points in the year, such as retailers that step up hiring over the holidays, then return to pre-holiday staffing levels in January.
The chart below compares shows Georgia’s nonseasonally adjusted and seasonally adjusted unemployment rates from January 2011 through June 2013.
The nonseasonally adjusted data show much greater volatility, most notably during the summer months and over the holidays, than do the seasonally adjusted data. The spike in June 2013 is particularly notable.
The table below shows the difference in unemployment rates among states in the Southeast. All experienced much larger jumps in the nonseasonally adjusted measure in June than they did for the seasonally adjusted gauge.
Another way to account for seasonal factors is to look at the year-over-year percent change in the nonseasonally adjusted data, which we do in the chart below. Compared with last June, Georgia has fewer total unemployed—2.3 percent fewer, to be exact.
You’ve probably noticed a couple of things in the charts above. In the first chart, even the seasonally adjusted data show an increase in Georgia’s unemployment rate. In the second chart, while the year-over-year percent change in nonseasonally adjusted level of unemployed is negative, it is decidedly less negative that it has been. The message here is that regardless of which unemployment rate measurement you look at, they continue to reflect high levels of unemployment. But it’s important to recognize that seasonally adjusted data better reflect the underlying trends in labor market data.
By Mike Chriszt, a vice president in the Atlanta Fed’s public affairs department
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Expansion in Regional Manufacturing Continues
Manufacturing contacts in the Southeast region reported continued expansion for the fourth consecutive month, as reflected in the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI).
The Southeast PMI, produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University, provides an analysis of the most current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The index is based on a survey of representatives from companies in those states regarding trends and activity of new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished goods. A reading on this index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction.
This positive trend for manufacturing activity came as a pleasant surprise as the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Index reported two consecutive drops in the national PMI, suggesting manufacturing growth to have slowed nationally. While Southeast PMI is not a subset of the national index, both measure a mix of similar components by surveying purchasing managers.
The Southeast PMI experienced less than a point increase in April compared with March. Although this increase over the prior period is minimal, the overall index reflected the highest level since May 2012 at 55.5, which is 5.5 points above the of 50-point benchmark. Increases in indices of new orders, production, and employment drove this growth, and each of these components was substantially above its respective measure in the national PMI.
Production experienced the most significant jump of the survey components, with an increase of 5.7 points from March to April, ending at 61.2. Employment jumped 4.1 points during the same period to 57.8. While new orders reflected a much smaller increase of 0.4 points, this minimal increase brings the submeasure to 57.8, well above the expansion benchmark (see the chart).
Of survey participants, 43 percent expect production to be higher in the next three to six months, versus 33 percent for the prior survey period. Although this is not the highest level of optimism reported this year by survey participants, those following the industry welcome these positive sentiments while watching to see if the region will continue to outperform national manufacturing activity.
By Amy Pitts, a senior Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville Branch
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Regional Employment Grew in March, Led by Florida and Georgia
On April 19, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the March regional and state employment and unemployment report. Data in the report show that Sixth District states added a seasonally adjusted 45,500 payrolls in March, and the aggregated regional unemployment rate dropped 0.1 percentage point, to 7.7 percent, with results generally positive across southeastern states (see the chart). The United States as a whole added 88,000 payrolls in March 2013, which means the Sixth District states accounted for a large portion of the national gain.
Notably, February payroll gains for the region were revised down by 11,800, to a new level of 29,800. Nonetheless, the three-month average employment gain for the region remained a healthy 34,500.
Sixth District highlights
- All states within the Sixth District with the exception of Tennessee added payrolls in March 2013 (see the table). The largest gains were in Florida (32,700, highest in the nation) and Georgia (13,600, third-highest in the nation).
- Leisure and hospitality (12,500) added the most jobs in Florida, followed by trade, transportation, and utilities (6,600) and construction (5,500).
- Payroll increases in Georgia came from professional and business services (6,700), trade, transportation, and utilities (4,200) and construction (3,100).
- Most of the sectors in Tennessee cut jobs over the month, with the leaders being professional and business services (down 3,300) and trade, transportation and utilities (down 2,400).
- Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi experienced only small increases in payrolls.
- The unemployment rate decreased in Florida (down 0.3 percentage point), Georgia (down 0.2 percentage point), and Mississippi (down 0.2 percentage point). It was unchanged in Alabama and increased in Louisiana (up 0.2 percentage point) and Tennessee (up 0.1 percentage point; see the chart).
By Neil Desai, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s research department
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Regional Employment Increases
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released state employment and unemployment data on March 29 for the month of February. The news was rather good.
The report showed that Sixth District states added a net 41,600 payrolls in February, which is a stronger showing that January’s upwardly revised increase of 28,200. All states in the region added payrolls in February, with Tennessee (up 11,400) and Louisiana (up 9,100) leading the way.
Meanwhile, the aggregated unemployment rate for the region remained unchanged at 7.8 percent, with individual states’ results a mixed bag (see table below). The unemployment rate decreased in Florida (down 0.2 percentage point) and Georgia (down 0.1 percentage point), the two states that together make up almost 60 percent of the Sixth District’s labor market. The unemployment rate increased in the other states in the region.
By Neil Desai, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s research department
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