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By Eric Stirgus July 25, 2012

The mayor gets the numbers right on jobs lost

For the past two years, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been one of the most vocal advocates in support of a regional sales tax to pay for more than 150 transportation projects he and proponents say will ease congestion in the region.

Supporters also say the 1 percent tax would jolt the region’s economy by creating jobs for people working on those transportation projects. An earlier claim by tax proponents said that the plan will "create or support an additional 200,000 new jobs." PolitiFact found that number gave an inflated impression of the plan's impact, and the jobs-creation claim earned a Mostly False on the Truth-O-Meter.  

Critics say the tax will benefit construction companies and the well-connected, but do little to untangle the region’s transportation gridlock.

Reed’s statement concerned only the number of jobs lost in the economic downturn.

The mayor was very vocal about the need for more jobs during a news conference at City Hall to announce the Atlanta Business League’s support for the July 31 referendum. The sales tax could raise $8.5 billion over 10 years, after inflation.

"The city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia, we’ve lost 200,000 jobs since the year 2007," Reed began. "We’ve lost 50,000 construction jobs since the year 2007."

We wanted to know if hizzoner has potential as a labor economist. Or are the mayor’s numbers incorrect?

PolitiFact Georgia went to the most commonly used and dependable source of labor data, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For our purposes, we focused on state employment figures.

First, the overall employment numbers. In May 2012, the most recent monthly BLS data available, an estimated 3,930,000 Georgians were employed. In May 2007, the number of Georgians employed 4,139,000, the federal data shows. The difference is 209,000 people.

So far, so good for the mayor.

Now, what about the construction data? In May 2007, the BLS said about 222,700 Georgians were employed in the construction industry. In May 2012, the number dropped to an estimated 141,300 Georgians. The difference: 81,400.

That’s actually more people who’ve lost their jobs in construction than Reed said at the City Hall event.

Real estate has long been a bedrock industry in metro Atlanta with the region’s rapid population growth in recent decades. The Great Recession hurt the real estate industry tremendously. Construction levels dropped nearly 80 percent between 2006 -- its peak year -- and 2010, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in 2011.

The federal data shows construction employment declined each month between August 2007 and September 2010. Employment rose for a few months in early 2011, but has largely declined since.

As for the overall employment numbers, the decline since 2007 also has been largely blamed on the recession. The number of Georgians employed has increased by about 92,000 since May 2010, the BLS numbers show.

Reed’s overall point is that the region could use the jobs that might be created by these transportation projects. And it is uncertain how many jobs the projects would create.

But the jobs-loss numbers Reed used to back up his argument were correct for the number of total jobs lost since 2007. Reed actually underestimated the total of jobs lost since 2007 in the construction industry.

Overall, we rate his statement as True.

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