As Labor Day approaches many DeKalb residents said they have little to celebrate this year.
Hundreds of job seekers, such as Stavoney Brooks, stood in sweltering heat in a line for a job fair at Atlanta Technical College on Aug. 18. Brooks waved her hand and said she had a message for the president.
“We need jobs, Obama,” she shouted amid nods of approval. Brooks had been waiting in line for more than three hours.
More than 3,000 people throughout Georgia showed up to the fair, which was hosted by Congressman John Lewis (D-5), Congressman Hank Johnson (D-4) and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Ninety employers, all of them with job openings—a requirement for participation in the fair—were present, but those job seekers who didn’t pre-register faced a hot and sweaty wait.
Eighteen-year-old John Hunter said he didn’t expect to see half as many people there. Hunter said that seeing all the people waiting to get inside opened his eyes as to how bad the job market in the state and metro Atlanta is.
“It’s crazy because it’s old and young people. It’s everybody,” Hunter said.
According to a news release from Johnson’s office, a few job seekers suffered from heat-related illnesses while waiting in the long lines to meet with employers.
“The people are desperate for work,” said Johnson. “Today the urgency of the crisis was on vivid display.”
Leonardo McClarty, president of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, said that the number of jobs created in the county has remained stagnant.
“I think if you look at the stats it would say that quite frankly it has not improved,” McClarty said.
However, McClarty said that when work begins on some of the capital improvement projects in DeKalb he thinks more jobs will become available.
“It’s hard to say right now exactly how [many],” McClarty said. “I think that most of the jobs are going to continue to come from your everyday small business person. They are going to come from private industry.”
McClarty said that traditionally a lot of jobs are created by government but even now DeKalb County has had to cut back on hiring. Most likely, he said, the county would see small businesses creating five jobs here or 20 jobs there, but there would be no big business boom in the near future.
“I think that the question can be asked, ‘Could more be done?’ and I guess you could always find something else that you could possibly do. I think that one thing that can always be done is to ease regulatory burdens and hurdles,” McClarty said. He said that this would create an environment where more small businesses could prosper.
McClarty said that there is evidence of small businesses interested in creating jobs throughout the county—300 people attended a recent small business summit organized by the county’s Office of Economic Development.
According to the most recent Georgia Department of Labor Statistics (GDOL), metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate declined to 10.4 percent in July, the same number it was a year ago. Initial unemployment insurance claims in DeKalb County, fell 6.6 percent between June and July from 4,238 to 3,958 and fell 8.4 percent since last year, according to the GDOL.
Some non-agricultural jobs in the Atlanta area saw significant losses when compared to last year. The number of construction jobs dropped 8.9 percent and government jobs fell 5.2 percent since July 2010. Other industries such as real estate and internet service providers saw significant job losses annually, according to the GDOL.
County-wide unemployment statistics from the GDOL are available at the beginning of each calendar year. There is monthly employment data available for DeKalb County, but GDOL spokesman Sam Hall said that those numbers shouldn’t be confused with job growth numbers.
“A job is very specific. It’s a job that would be located in DeKalb County, but employment numbers are based on the number of residents that are living in the county that are employed. They might live in DeKalb and work in Fulton,” Hall said.
In a spreadsheet provided to the Champion Newspaper by GDOL, the industries with the largest long-term projected annual growth between 2008 and 2018 are health care and technology.
Sheryl Chapman, director of the DeKalb County Office of Workforce Development, said that many of the people who come through her office receive training in health care, office administration and support or project management.
Chapman said her office helps place those who have lost their jobs into certain industries by giving them the resources they need, helping them pay for tuition at certain technical schools and assessing their skills to help place them in an industry that is right for them.
“We are 100 percent federally funded and when a person comes we put them through an orientation section. We also have a facility where people can come and work on things like their interview skills,” Chapman said.
Chapman also said that throughout the week the office offers free workshops for potential jobseekers to help expand their skills.
Chapman said that she thought there had been some small improvement in the job market but that many businesses were still reluctant to hire new employees. She said that stronger relationships need to be developed through the government and the small business sector.
“We need to work with our small businesses to encourage them, whether it’s through tax incentives or other things, to hire more people. But, I do think that there has been some small improvement,” Chapman said.