LAFAYETTE, Ga. - After rising steadily since last summer, the jobless rate declined across North Georgia last month, the Georgia Department of Labor reported Thursday.
But the April decline in unemployment reflects a drop in the number of people looking for work as much as any rebound in jobs. Some people simply have stopped looking for work.
"Everywhere I apply for a job, no one is hiring, and I think a lot of workers are getting very discouraged and some may be giving up," said Elvis Morgan, a 30-year-old construction worker in LaFayette, who has been unemployed for the past six months. "I've never seen the economy this bad in my life. I'm willing to do most anything, but the jobs just aren't there."
And with Northwest Georgia's dependence on carpet and appliance manufacturing, the jobless rates in most of the region remained above the state and national averages.
In Walker County, for instance, the number of people employed dipped by a net 60 jobs even as the unemployment rate plunged from 13.2 percent in March to 9.7 percent in April.
Walker County is home to General Electric's largest cooking division plant - the GE Roper facility in LaFayette - and other appliance and carpet manufacturers hurt by the housing slowdown.
In neighboring Catoosa County, unemployment fell from 8.8 percent in March to 8.2 percent in April even as net employment fell by an estimated 64 jobs.
Nonetheless, the pace of job losses does appear to be slowing.
In metropolitan Dalton, unemployment in April remained the highest in Georgia's 14 metropolitan areas as the self-described "Carpet Capital of the World" continues to suffer from the housing slowdown. But the jobless rate in the metro area that includes Whitfield and Murray counties still was down last month from the 13.6 percent record peak reached in March. April's jobless rate in metro Dalton fell to 12.8 percent.
Marilyn Helms, a professor of business management at Dalton State College, said she believes the regional economy may be close to turning the corner.
"I think we can take some sign of hope from these numbers, and maybe most of the layoffs are over," she said.
"Unemployment tends to lag most other economic indicators, but there does seem to be more consumer confidence and a sense that the worst may be behind us," she said.
Dr. Helms said many of her students were able to find or keep their jobs after graduating this spring, and others are starting new businesses.
Statewide, Georgia's comparable nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate in April was unchanged at 9.1 percent.
The U.S. unemployment rate last month, not adjusted for seasonal variations, was 8.6 percent.