November 14, 2012

Atlanta Fed official: Carpet coming back but many jobs won’t

Charles Oliver

— Housing sales and prices have started to increase, as has new home construction. However, all still have a ways to go to recover from historic lows. That’s good news for Dalton’s floorcovering industry, said Michael Chriszt, vice president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s research department.

But it may not be good news for local workers. Dalton lost a larger share of its jobs during the recession than any other metropolitan area in Georgia. The number of Dalton area residents in the workforce fell almost 20 percent since 2007, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

“Many of those jobs are not coming back,” Chriszt said.

On Tuesday, Chriszt presented an Economic Outlook with a special focus on the housing industry in two programs open to the public at Dalton State College and Dalton City Hall.

He said the floorcovering industry has been forced by the recession to speed up its use of new, more efficient technology and manufacturing processes. Companies now can make more carpet and other floorcovering with less labor in the past, so even as production ramps up, jobs aren’t likely to grow much in that industry.

But Chriszt added that a large pool of experienced manufacturing workers has put Dalton on the map for other industries, particularly automobile parts manufacturers.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said local leaders realize the local economy needs to diversify and have been working to bring in other industries.

“What we’ve lost here, and what we’ve lost across America, for the most part, are low-paying jobs that require little skills. But we’ve got a lot of jobs that are going begging because we don’t have people with the skills to fill them. It’s shocking to look at the total unemployment rate and then see manufacturers say they have $60,000-a-year welding jobs they can’t fill,” Pennington said.

“That’s why we need to reform our education system, and Dalton is beginning to be recognized as one of the leaders in that effort. That is the key to the future. We need to have a better-educated workforce,” Pennington said, referring to state and national recognition earned by local efforts to promote early literacy in schools.

Though the United States is currently officially in the 40th month of an economic recovery, Chriszt said it “doesn’t feel much like a recovery.”

Gross domestic product has risen at an average annual rate of about 2 percent over that period and forecasters don’t expect that to pick up much.

“The economy is stuck in a slow growth mode,” he said.

Some of the bright spots in the economy, Chriszt said are manufacturing, which is holding its own, and energy, which is seeing solid growth.

Chriszt said some of the dangers that economists are keeping their eyes on are the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a combination of more than $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts that will take place in January 2013 if lawmakers don’t act, and the federal government’s long-term fiscal policy, especially its large and persistent deficits.