UPDATE: Atlanta adds jobs, on pace to be back to break-even in 2022

Metro area unemployment rate dropped to 4.1% in March

Editor’s note: This article has been updated throughout with additional details.

The region’s recovery continued last month at a steady, if unspectacular pace, as metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate dropped and the local economy added 14,800 jobs, officials said Thursday.

Since the devastating shutdowns early in the pandemic, the area has added back nearly a quarter-million jobs.

That still leaves the region nearly 140,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic level. At last month’s pace, break-even would come in nine months. But March is typically a stronger-than-average month. At the usual pace of April-to-December growth, Atlanta will not reach pre-pandemic job levels until at least mid-2022.

But this year is anything but usual.

With widespread vaccinations, the economy has momentum, said Sara Kirby, area vice president for staffing company Randstad in Atlanta.

“We are seeing a huge surge in job opportunities, especially in manufacturing and logistics,” she said. “We see things expanding and I don’t see things slowing down.”

There are other positive signals.

The metro area’s jobless rate dipped from 4.5% in February to 4.1% last month, despite growth in the labor force. That is a sign that some of the unemployed feel hopeful enough to return to a job search they had abandoned — and that many of them found jobs.

Nationally, new claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest level of the pandemic, according to the government.

In Georgia, the numbers have fallen from the stratospheric highs of last spring, but are still more than five times as high as the average pre-pandemic week. Last week, the state processed 32,381 initial claims.

The number can be deceptive, Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner, argued recently in an email. “About 80% are people quitting or getting fired. We are not seeing signs of increased layoffs. Just a lot of people filing unemployment trying to get on unemployment.”

Jobless claims also include some people who lost jobs a year ago and have had to re-file for benefits, he said.

The state’s job postings site has about 230,000 listings, Butler said Thursday. “We had another strong month. We saw the unemployment rate drop in every, single (metro area), along with an increase in jobs across the state.”

Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services, gave some credit to generally better weather and more outdoor activity, but also to the combination of vaccinations and massive federal stimulus.

“Job growth will remain very strong throughout 2021 and into 2022,” he said.

Evidence of the expansion in Georgia includes:

-- SK Innovation is hiring hundreds of workers to staff a $2.6 billion factory being built in Commerce. While not inside metro Atlanta, as defined for government statistics, the battery plant is about a 45-minute drive from the city along I-85.

-- MAU Workforce Solutions, a staffing company, is holding a drive-thru hiring event May 1. Applicants will not need to get out of their cars as they are interviewed for warehouse jobs at the Robert Bosch Plant on Fulton Industrial Blvd. in Atlanta, the company said.

-- Hire Dynamics this week held a two-day hiring fair aimed at filling 1,800 jobs in metro Atlanta. Among the positions being filled are manufacturing, contact centers, administrative, logistics and warehouses.

-- Piedmont Healthcare aims to hire a few hundred nurses and respiratory therapists, a spokesman said. To lure them, Piedmont is offering hiring bonuses of up to $30,000 for each person, based on expertise, experience, and staying on the job for a specified time, he said.

-- A packaging company, ePac Flexible Packaging, this week announced plans to expand its Gwinnett County manufacturing, adding 15 jobs.

Metro Atlanta jobs

Added in March 2021: 14,800

Added since April 2020: 241,700

Compared to pre-pandemic peak: -139,800


Metro Atlanta unemployment rate

Highest, pre-pandemic: 11.1% (June 2009)

Lowest, pre-pandemic: 2.8% (Nov. 2019)

Highest, pandemic: 12.6% (April 2020)

Most recent: 4.1% (March)


Georgia new jobless claims

Average week, January: 31,928

Average week, February: 28,188

Average week, March: 28,436

Average, first three weeks of April: 34,795

Total claims processed since start of pandemic: 4.69 million

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration