Georgia unemployment rate falls to a pandemic low as hiring accelerates

Texas-based cabinet manufacturer and interiors solutions provider Republic Elite has acquired Windsor Kitchen & Bath in Lawrenceville. The expansion and relocation to 755 Raco Drive will create 125 new jobs. (Courtesy of Republic Elite)

Credit: Courtesy of Republic Elite

Credit: Courtesy of Republic Elite

Texas-based cabinet manufacturer and interiors solutions provider Republic Elite has acquired Windsor Kitchen & Bath in Lawrenceville. The expansion and relocation to 755 Raco Drive will create 125 new jobs. (Courtesy of Republic Elite)

Georgia kicked off summer by adding nearly double the number of jobs as usual for June while the unemployment rate fell to a 15-month pandemic low amid increased competition for workers.

The state’s economy continued moving toward normalcy, expanding by 32,800 jobs as the unemployment rate dipped from 4.1% in May to 4% last month, the state Department of Labor said Thursday. That is less than one-third the rate at the worst of the pandemic shutdowns.

“The overall trend is more important than any one report, and the overall trend has been positive,” said economist Tom Smith of Emory’s Goizueta Business School. “Until we get kids back to school, like pre-pandemic, we won’t see much larger or faster movement.”

The state’s economy hemorrhaged 609,500 jobs at the start of the pandemic and has since added back about 464,000. The labor department processed only 14,475 initial jobless claims last week, the lowest total since March 21, 2020.

Though unemployment remains higher than the 3.5% pre-pandemic jobless rate, hiring has been fueled by an increase in spending. In metro Atlanta, which represents roughly two-thirds of the state’s economy, retail sales last month were 11.9% higher than the same month two years earlier, according to the Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales.

Still, many workers sidelined during the pandemic have been reluctant to return to work, especially lower-paying jobs, and some businesses have complained that they have trouble filling positions. The result has been a competition for workers.

Allied Universal wants to add 150 security people in Atlanta. “I think it’s going to be challenging for certain,” said Morgan Price, senior vice president of recruiting and talent acquisition. “Not only is finding top talent a challenge right now, but we are battling a lot of other companies that are also in the same position.”

Sometimes a tight market pushes businesses to increase pay.

At Six Flags amusement parks, which have typically hired younger workers for the season, the pitch to potential workers now includes wages starting at $15 an hour, bonus pay and an updated grooming policy that allows “tattoos below the neck, nose rings, multiple ear piercings and most modern hairstyles,” according to the park’s website.

Many companies are sweetening the pot for potential workers, said Tim Visconti, chief executive officer of Atlanta-based PeopleLift, which recruits and connects workers to companies, especially in manufacturing.

“We have seen a 20% increase at the low end, from $12 or $13 an hour to $16 or $17 an hour for the same person,” he said. “We are seeing a little bit of a cool-off, but this feels like 1999.”

Last month’s hiring was strongest in the sector that was hurt the worst — accommodation and food services. But it was also robust in transportation and warehousing.

In Braselton, Uline is looking to hire about 100 more workers to add to the 500-plus it already employs at its warehouse, said Terry Knox, human resources manager.

The jobs start at $24 an hour, with profit-sharing and performance bonuses, he said.

“The labor market is tough,” Knox said. “Everyone is looking for people. But we do have a good applicant pool.”

Some businesses have said enhanced unemployment benefits were providing an incentive for people to turn down work. Those complaints spurred Gov. Brian Kemp in June to end the state’s participation in federal programs that paid benefits to 170,000 people. Another 55,000 saw benefits trimmed.

According to a national survey, jobless benefits were a key reason for about 13% of those who declined work, about the same share as those who attribute it to a lack of childcare. The same percentage also said fears of COVID-19 or their own health issues are preventing their return to work.

“There are so many different things, it’s almost impossible to nail down one factor,” said Emory’s Smith.

Atlanta is one of the nation’s fastest growing job markets, but workers want more control over their schedules than before, said Sumir Meghani, chief executive of Instawork, a digital platform that connects workers and companies. “The biggest trend that we’re observing ... is the desire for flexibility.”

Whatever the reason for worker hesitation, the economy’s growth has permitted many people to be more choosy about what jobs they take — or endure. The number of people quitting jobs was at an all-time high in April, dipping slightly in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bridget Doss had been a lecturer for 14 years in the English Department at Kennesaw State.

While she was unhappy with some of the university’s decisions around hiring and pay, she loved teaching and the work was steady, she said. “It was kind of a measly paycheck, but it was dependable.”

The pandemic changed her perspective.

She got a realtor’s license, gave her notice, left KSU in May and went to work at Kelli Phillips Realty Group.

“Maybe 10 years earlier, I would have been too scared,” she said. “The chaos of last year allowed me to re-imagine myself. The chaos of last year allowed me to re-imagine my future.”

Georgia unemployment rate

Current: 4.0%

Feb., 2020: 3.5%

April, 2020: 12.5%


Georgia jobs

Lost, first two months of the pandemic: 609,500

Gained, since April, 2020: 464,000

Gained, June, 2021: 32,800


Georgia weekly jobless claims

Last week: 14,475

Average, year before pandemic: 5,548

Highest, pre-pandemic: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2009)

Highest, pandemic: 390,132 (April 4, 2020)

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