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Jobless rate increases in Forsyth
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Forsyth County News

Last month, 444 Forsyth County residents filed for unemployment for the first time.

That may not sound like much given the county's population of about 150,000. But during the same month last year, 263 residents filed for unemployment.

The nearly 69 percent increase in first-time unemployment claims over the past year is keeping pace with the state's 72 percent increase.

During the week of Aug. 16, the total number of unemployment claims filed in Forsyth County was 795, up from the 442 claims filed during the week of Aug. 18, 2007.

The Forsyth County unemployment rate in July 2008 increased to 4.7 percent, up from 3.4 percent at the same time last year.

"You never want to see that number going up, but it's unreasonable to believe that the number is going to stay at 3 or 4 percent," said James McCoy, president and chief executive officer of the local chamber of commerce. "Unfortunately I think it's reflective of the overall national economy.

"We're still lower than the state average ... and while we really hate that the number is going up, we're still faring much better than those we often compete against."

The state's rate in July increased more than Forsyth's, from 4.4 percent to 6 percent. In August, Georgia's jobless rate rose again to 6.3 percent, higher than the current national average of 6.1, which also is up from 4.7 percent last year and 5.7 percent last month.

Some of the state's most populated counties, including Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton, saw a spike as well, with totals ranging from 3,200 to 5,100 first-time unemployment claims.

Neighboring Cherokee, Dawson and Hall counties saw initial unemployment claims rise over last year, with increases of about 84 percent in Cherokee, 121 percent in Dawson and 101 percent in Hall.

Forsyth has managed to dodge some of the negative repercussions of the struggling economy. But unemployment is a different ballgame, said Frank Norton Jr., author of the annual Native Intelligence economic forecast report, which examines trends in North Georgia.

"I think it's reflective of the slowdown of the housing industry as it's finally affecting contractors in Forsyth," said Norton, president of Gainesville-based real estate firm the Norton Agency. "You don't have a manufacturing sector, but you have a service sector, which is still fairly healthy.

"But there has been a great deal of employment relating to your largest industry, which is housing and growth. People haven't realized that the largest industry in Forsyth County has been the housing industry and its associated byproducts-finance, land preparation, even down to selling refrigerators."

Norton said he expects to see a period where employment moves from one sector to another, similar to Gwinnett County, where the housing sector slowed and casual and skilled labor moved into industry.

The nomadic employment would impact only a small percentage of county residents, he said, as many already commute to metro Atlanta for executive-level jobs.

Forsyth's increase in unemployment claims isn't an indication of the overall health of the county, which Norton said is strong.

"Your retail sector is still fairly strong and you have so many executive level jobholders that live in Forsyth and are working elsewhere," he said.

"This is an overall problem in the statistics, in that we're focused on [4.5 or 5] percent unemployment, but what we fail to realize is that the county has a 95 percent employment rate and we're only dealing with a small factor."

Norton said many of his real estate clients have been concerned over another Great Depression.

"During the early 1930s, this country had a 25 to 30 percent unemployment rate. So statistically, we're not even scratching the surface there," he said.

"We have too many strong fundamentals in comparison to what the country was like back then, and what the economy was like back then. There is no comparison."