DALTON, Ga. -- James Ledford calls himself a "jack of all trades" with a resume that includes tufting machine mechanic, certified tire changer, lawn maintenance and landscape worker and chicken farmer, among other jobs.
But amid the worst economy here since the Great Depression, Mr. Ledford is struggling to use any of his skills to make a living.
The 50-year-old Dalton worker spent most of Monday at the state unemployment office looking for whatever kind of job is available.
"The job market is as bad as I've ever seen it and I'm struggling just to make the payments on my machinery," he said. "At this point, I'll do most anything to make a little money."
Staff Photo by Margaret Fenton John Gooch files for unemployment at the Georgia Department of Labor office in Dalton, Ga., on Monday afternoon. Mr. Gooch was laid off from a fire department in the region after 18 years of service.
Mr. Ledford and his wife, whose hours also were cut Monday at her job at Mohawk Industries, are earning only about half as much as they did before work here slowed.
Such income declines helped make metropolitan Dalton one of only five of the nation's 366 metro areas where overall income declined during 2008, according to a new government report.
The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis said that overall income in metro Dalton fell by 0.7 percent last year. It was the first such decline since the bureau began keeping such records 40 years ago.
Per capita annual income for Dalton workers fell by $379, or 1.3 percent, during 2008. That's the biggest drop of any mid-South metro area and compares with a 2.5 percent average gain in income for all Americans.
The $28,674 average income for a Dalton resident in 2008 was nearly 28 percent less than the U.S. average, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
"The epicenter of this recession has been housing market and Dalton is geared to housing more than most areas with its dependence upon the carpet industry," said Jeff Humphreys, director of economic forecasting for the University of Georgia. "I'm afraid that 2009, if anything, is going to be even worse than 2008 because we've had even heavier job losses this year."
Dalton continues to have the highest unemployment rate among Georgia's 14 metro areas. In June, the jobless rate in metro Dalton rose to 13 percent, compared with 10.1 percent statewide and the U.S. rate of 9.5 percent.
Even government employees who often enjoy more protection against economic cycles are suffering.
Jim Gooch recently lost his job as an Alpharetta, Ga., firefighter and he's struggling to find another job in firefighting.
"The market is terrible right now because local governments are having to cut back everywhere," he said while looking for work at a Georgia career center in Dalton on Monday.
Dalton business leaders hope to reverse the Carpet Capital's downturn in coming years through a new "Grow Greater Dalton Plan" unveiled last month. Like "Target Tomorrow," launched in Dalton in 1996, the program will try to set a new vision for the city and recruit new businesses and tourists.
"The carpet industry has been and will remain vital to our economy, but we also want to look at how we can diversify and grow our community in new ways," said Brian Anderson, president of the Dalton/Whitfield County Chamber of Commerce.