Few encouraging words: Speaker at business breakfast says to expect more of the same for a while
by Katy Ruth Camp
krcamp@mdjonline.com
November 30, 2011 12:05 AM | 2784 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From left are Rob Garcia, president and chief operating officer of Bank of North Georgia; Dr. Albert Niemi Jr., featured guest speaker; and Don Howard, chairman of Bank of North Georgia and regional CEO of Synovus. Niemi Jr. spoke to the Economic Forecast 2012 breakfast, hosted by the Bank of North Georgia, on Wednesday morning. There is not a lot encouraging news about the economy or the economic forecast, he says. Niemi says that the recovery could take many years, given the millions of people who are unemployed, underemployed and those who have given up looking for work.<br>Staff/Special
From left are Rob Garcia, president and chief operating officer of Bank of North Georgia; Dr. Albert Niemi Jr., featured guest speaker; and Don Howard, chairman of Bank of North Georgia and regional CEO of Synovus. Niemi Jr. spoke to the Economic Forecast 2012 breakfast, hosted by the Bank of North Georgia, on Wednesday morning. There is not a lot encouraging news about the economy or the economic forecast, he says. Niemi says that the recovery could take many years, given the millions of people who are unemployed, underemployed and those who have given up looking for work.
Staff/Special
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GALLERIA — Although many of the 500 attendees at Tuesday morning’s Economic Forecast 2012 breakfast hosted by Bank of North Georgia at the Cobb Galleria Centre were hoping to hear encouraging words for 2012, leading economist and guest speaker Dr. Albert Niemi Jr. spoke very few.

Niemi said 2012 will look much like 2011, with little to no improvement in the three key areas for economic recovery: job creation, housing starts and consumer spending.

Niemi, who was formerly the dean of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and is now dean of the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, has been the featured speaker for the breakfast for all 19 years BoNG has hosted the event, said Lauren Muzzy, the company’s communications director.

The main predictions and conclusions Niemi shared Tuesday morning were that Georgia and the rest of the U.S. are facing a very sluggish recovery; the poverty level is growing while the middle class is shrinking; it could be 10 or more years before the nation reaches a 5 percent employment rate; the crash of the housing market and its current stalemate are deflating the economy; and manufacturing in the U.S. has virtually disappeared.

Niemi said the real GDP for the U.S. will close out in 2011 at 1.7 percent and he predicted that 2012 would end at 2.1 percent.

“Anything less than 3 percent is a bad year,” Niemi said.

Niemi also said the nation’s unemployment rate will close at 9.1 percent this year, and predicted that it will only drop slightly at the end of 2012 to 9.0 percent.

And Niemi said the data that is used every month in terms of the number of people unemployed is actually far less than what the nation is really facing.

Niemi put it this way: The government considers those unemployed as people who do not have a job, but are actively seeking employment. That makes up about 14 million people at 9.1 percent. Then there are those who are considered underemployed, because they are working at jobs significantly below their skill sets and previous incomes, but are working odd jobs to provide some sort of income, such as an attorney working at a coffee shop. Those are estimated at 9.3 million people, or 6.0 percent. Then there are what Niemi referred to as discouraged workers, who are unemployed and say they are not seeking employment. Niemi said the discouraged workers make up about 2.6 million people, or 1.7 percent.

So in total, Niemi said the “real employment” figure to consider is that the nation will end 2011 on a 16.8 percent unemployment rate with 25.9 million Americans out of jobs or working far below their skill levels.

Niemi said 8.4 million jobs were lost in the recession, and since it officially ended in July 2009, 2.1 million jobs have been recovered. So that leaves 6.3 million additional jobs that are needed to get back to 2007’s employment numbers and, in addition, 125,000 new American workers are entering the workforce each month, Niemi said. From January to October, America has averaged an additional 115,000 jobs added each month, Niemi said. So between those jobs needed each month, the discouraged workers who have basically given up on employment and the 125,000 new workers entering the job each month, Niemi said it would be January 2022 before America reached full employment if the nation added 200,000 net new jobs each month starting this month, or January 2018 if the nation added 250,000.

“That’s the reason the unemployment rate won’t go down next year,” Niemi said. “We’re not creating jobs fast enough to take care of the new workers entering the workforce. Those lost jobs are still out there …We’ve got so much uncertainty, it is paralyzing job creation. No one knows what the true cost of health care will be, where taxes are going, and we know the political environment is charged but we don’t know which direction it’s going to go, so that depresses job creation and companies muddle through with the employees they have until they see what will happen.”

Niemi said manufacturing and the science and technology fields are facing a shortage in qualified workers, because not enough students are earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Vice President and Marietta site General Manager Shan Cooper said her company hires 4,000 engineers each year, but that it is becoming increasingly difficult each year to hire qualified engineers because there are fewer graduates in the required fields.

“We are fortunate to be near Georgia Tech and Southern Polytechnic, so we try to partner as much as we can with them and let them know about Lockheed Martin and that their students will be needed,” Cooper said. “I don’t think his predictions surprised me. I knew we were likely facing more challenges ahead. But I appreciated his real and simplified perspective, and these are not things that are insurmountable. We have smart people in smart places and they will take time, but they’re not insurmountable. This really gave us a model to look at and make changes in our businesses based on the model.”

Steve Hyde, executive vice president, corporate banking manager for BoNG, said he was actually a student of Niemi’s in the early ’80s when he was an undergraduate at UGA seeking his degree in finance, and has been hearing him speak at the breakfast since he came to work for BoNG 13 years ago.

“We use this when we have to look at the business climate and the challenges we face and when we’re making tough calls,” Hyde said. “Having accurate information is paramount, and unfortunately, he’s very accurate.”

Others in attendance Tuesday morning included: BoNG president and chief operating officer, and Cobb Chamber of Commerce Chairman Rob Garcia; Cobb Chamber CEO David Connell; Atlanta Regional Commission and Cumberland Community Improvement District Chairman Tad Leithead; former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden; and Cobb County Chairman Tim Lee.

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Follow Katy Ruth Camp on Twitter at twitter.com/KatyRuthC.
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