According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provisional estimates, in July 2003 the seasonally adjusted civilian labor force in Georgia numbered 4,386,400, with approximately 218,400 workers unemployed, yielding an unemployment rate of 5.0%, compared to the national average of 6.2% for the same period. Since the beginning of the BLS data series in 1978, the highest unemployment rate recorded was 8.5% in December 1982. The historical low was 3.5% in March 2001. In 2001, an estimated 6.1% of the labor force was employed in construction; 15.1% in manufacturing; 8.9% in transportation, communications, and public utilities; 19.2% in trade; 5.4% in finance, insurance, and real estate; 25.2% in services; 12.7% in government; and 1.7% in agriculture.
The most remarkable change in the labor force since World War II has been the rising proportion of employed women, whose share increased from less than 28% in 1940 to an estimated 60.4% in 1998.
The trend during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s was toward increased employment in trade and service industries and toward multiple job holding. Employment in agriculture, the leading industry prior to World War II, continued its long-term decline. One indication of declining employment was the decrease in farm population, which went from 515,000 in 1960 to 228,000 in 1970 to 121,000 in 1980 and 73,647 in 1990. Georgia's farm employment in 1996 totaled about 42,000. The mining, construction, and manufacturing industries registered employment increases but declined in importance relative to such sectors as trade and services.
Georgia is not considered to be a unionized state. Among state laws strictly regulating union activity is a right-to-work law enacted in 1947. In that year, union members in Georgia numbered 256,800.
In 1962, the Georgia legislature denied state employees the right to strike. Strikes in Georgia tend to occur less frequently than in most heavily industrialized states. One of the earliest state labor laws was an 1889 act requiring employers to provide seats for females to use when resting. A child-labor law adopted in 1906 prohibited the employment of children under 10 years of age in manufacturing. A general workers' compensation law was enacted in 1920.
The US Department of Labor reported that in 2002, 218,000 of Georgia's 3,643,000 employed wage and salary workers were members of unions. This represented 6.0% of those so employed, down from 7.1% in 2001. The national average is 13.2%. In all, 256,000 workers (7.0%) were represented by unions. In addition to union members, this category includes workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract.