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This holiday weekend, focus is on the labor-less
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Listen as U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis discusses the national employment situation during a telephone news conference Thursday.
With millions of Americans unemployed, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't know anyone who has been laid off - if they themselves haven't recently lost a job.

"Labor Day 2009 arrives at a critical juncture in the economic history of the United States of America. The Great Recession has already claimed the jobs of 14 million American workers," said Michael Thurmond, Georgia Department of Labor commissioner. "Seismic economic forces are restructuring America's work force and the long-term effects will be pervasive and permanent."

According to the state Labor Department, last month there were 493,748 unemployed Georgians looking for work, an increase of more than 63 percent over last year. That total is around 10 percent of Georgia's population, officials say.

"Although layoffs are moderating, nearly a half-million Georgians are officially unemployed," Thurmond said. "These jobless workers could comprise a mythical unemployment line that stretches from Dalton to Atlanta, through Macon and down to Valdosta."

According to state and federal officials, most job losses are coming from the manufacturing, transportation, warehousing and trade industries. Professional and business service, such as temporary employment agencies and construction companies, also report significant job losses.

"This past August, the economy lost 216,000 jobs - fewer than what most experts expected," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in a conference call Friday. "The overall unemployment rate is now 9.7 percent. Last month's jobs loss is an improvement from the average 700,000 jobs our economy was losing every month when this administration took office, but is still by no means acceptable.

"At the Department or Labor, one of our goals is to help those people that have lost their jobs until there is a full recovery that includes sustained job growth. The recession has done more damage than could have ever been fixed in a half a year. And as we enter Labor Day weekend ... we need to remember that the (American) Recovery (and Reinvestment) act is helping to pull our economy back from the brink. We still have a long way to go until we can say that the economy is back on track and everyone has access to a good job, but I am confident we will reach that goal."

While it is difficult for many unemployed, able-bodied workers to find jobs, the search is proving to be equally tough for those with various handicaps.

Kecia Griffin, a Gainesville resident, is an employment specialist for the mentally handicapped and disabled. She said trying to find employment opportunities for her clients is so difficult that her own job may be in jeopardy.

"My job consists of me trying to find employment for people who already have barriers to employment, so imagine what our people are going through with the unemployment rate increasing daily," Griffin said.

But while some industries are losing jobs, there are some areas that continue to gain employees.

A report from state labor officials shows that health care and private educational services showed a combined increase of 10,400 jobs, while local and state governmental education added 9,200 more in July. Jobless numbers for August have yet to be released.

Current unemployment rates are higher than they were last year, but those numbers seem to be decreasing. For example, in July there were 1,396 first-time claims for unemployment benefits in Hall County alone; last year during the same time period there were only 827.

However, according to state Labor Department spokesman Sam Hall, July's total was lower than it was in the previous month. Hall said there were 1,750 first-time claims in June, 354 more than in July.

Although fewer people are being laid off, those who are unemployed are staying jobless longer.

According to a release from the state Labor Department, "The average length of time that jobless Georgia workers drew (unemployment insurance) benefits increased from 11.5 weeks in July 2008 to 13.4 weeks in July 2009."

Oakwood resident Bryan Norman knows first hand how difficult the job search can be.

"I was laid off in December - the 18th to be exact," he said. "Got a job in Flowery Branch in June. It took a lot of patience; I sent out a couple hundred resumes, but I heard back from a very few.

"It is hard to find a good job now. They are out there; job seekers just need to be patient."