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By Eric Stirgus March 12, 2012

Data mostly backs up job loss claim

With an overcrowded jail, a courthouse to protect and criminals to help catch, Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson says his deputies have enough to do and don’t need additional duties proposed by a state lawmaker.

The Democratic sheriff of Georgia’s highest-populated county recently fired off a letter to Sen. Don Balfour, a Gwinnett County Republican, objecting to Senate Bill 469, which would fine people and groups who conduct mass protests at someone’s home and cause a ruckus. Sheriff’s deputies would occasionally be involved in stopping these protests.

Here’s part of Jackson’s objection to the bill: "The role of law enforcement shouldn’t be to police free speech but the intent of this bill seems to be just that. By targeting only protests dealing with labor disputes, you are putting police officers in the difficult position of silencing the voices of Georgians and, in the process, setting us up to face potential lawsuits that would ultimately be paid for by taxpayers."

But this part of the letter, published in the Feb. 29 edition of Creative Loafing, made us interested.

"Finally, I believe this bill serves no useful purpose in fighting crime. Working daily throughout the communities of Fulton County gives me the opportunity to interact with varied segments of the population and see firsthand how citizens are suffering under the sluggish economy. Our state has an unemployment rate close to 10%, which is higher than the national average, while ranking last in job growth."

We’ve fact-checked claims about Georgia’s high unemployment rate before. But PolitiFact Georgia wondered about the final passage of that paragraph: is Georgia last in job growth?  

Most economist measure job growth in a state by using U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from one period and comparing it against another period. PolitiFact Georgia decided to measure the most recent 12-month period.

In December 2011, the most recent month available when Jackson wrote his letter, an estimated 3,809,800 Georgians were employed. In December 2010, approximately 3,823,700 Georgians had jobs. That’s a decline of nearly 14,000 jobs during that time period.

Only four states had a decline during that time period: Alaska, Delaware, Georgia and Missouri. Georgia had the largest decline.

So far, so good for the accuracy of Sheriff Jackson’s claim.

The five states with the greatest increase were, in order, California, Texas, Florida, New York and Ohio.

Wait! Those states are also some of the highest-populated in the country. Is the number of job losses the only way we should be measuring this? Georgia has a higher population than the three other states with job losses. Maybe that’s why the Peach State had more job losses than any other state.

We decided to do some more math to look at the percentage of job growth or decline in each state. In Georgia, the decrease was 0.36 percent. Delaware, at 0.68 percent, and Alaska, at 0.52 percent had a greater decline.

The Atlanta-based Georgia Budget & Policy Institute recently put together a fact-sheet on how Georgia fares nationally in job growth. Like us, they measured the percentage change in job growth.

"That way, you are counting for the difference in sizes (of each state)," said Alan Essig, the institute’s director.

Since the official end of the Great Recession (June 2009), Georgia ranked 49th out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. in job growth, the institute found. Only Missouri and Nevada had a larger percentage decline in job growth, they found. The institute also looked at the same time period we did and came up with the same numbers, concluding that Alaska and Delaware ranked lower in job growth.

Essig also told us that since December 2007, the only states with a greater percentage decline in job growth were Arizona, Florida and Nevada.

Jackson’s office presented us an Atlanta Business Chronicle article that found Georgia was second to last in job creation between July 2010 and July 2011, saved from being dead last by Indiana. The article focused on the decline in jobs, not the percentage change. The sheriff’s spokeswoman, Tracy Flanagan, also sent us a November 2011 report that showed Georgia had the largest percentage decline in employed workers in any state between June 2009 and September 2011, which was just over 2 percent.

Georgia does not look good here, any way you examine these numbers.

Georgia did have a larger decline in jobs than any other state over the most recent 12 months available. However, the percentage of that decline was not as great as two other states. Other research shows Georgia was close to last since 2007 and 2009.

The sheriff’s claim that Georgia was "last" in job growth is on target, but needs a little clarification. We rate the claim as Mostly True.

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