Metro Atlanta adds jobs, but still waits for acceleration

Economists say they expect restaurants and entertainment to be among the hiring leaders as consumer demand surges over the next few months. Here, to-go cocktail called the Airline Hurricane at the Beltline's Cold Beer. 
Courtesy of Cold Beer
Economists say they expect restaurants and entertainment to be among the hiring leaders as consumer demand surges over the next few months. Here, to-go cocktail called the Airline Hurricane at the Beltline's Cold Beer. Courtesy of Cold Beer

Credit: handout

Credit: handout

Metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate edged down in April as the region added 5,800 jobs and the post-vaccine economy continued climbing toward pre-pandemic health, state officials said Thursday.

Growth was more modest than many predicted, but it was enough to snip the jobless rate from 4.1% in March to 3.9%, the lowest it has been since February of 2020, the month before the pandemic hit.

“We had another strong month in April,” said Mark Butler, the state commissioner of labor.

Metro Atlanta has added 249,500 workers in the past 12 months, but is still 132,000 jobs short of its February 2020 level.

With vaccinations widespread, travel on the increase and consumer spending up, economists had predicted a surge of jobs this spring and many were puzzled by the shortfall. But with government spending high, interest rates low and many consumers eager to make up for a year of virtual seclusion, most experts still expect a solid rebound.

The number of service jobs especially is likely to grow, said economist Jeffrey Rosensweig of Emory’s Goizueta Business School. “During the pandemic, a lot of people couldn’t spend as much on services. There is so much pent-up demand.”

As homeowners are more comfortable with strangers coming into their houses, the plumbing business will benefit, said Jay Cunningham, owner of Kennesaw-based Superior Plumbing.

But he’s already got more demand than he can handle, he said. “We would hire 15 plumbers if we could find good candidates,” he said.

Leisure and hospitality, which took the biggest hit, should be among the first sectors to see recovery in hiring, said economist Raymond Hill, also of Goizueta. “There is plenty of demand out there for those tables, even for the budget restaurants.”

McDonalds recently held a job fair to fill 13,000 openings, said Jennifer Jones, spokeswoman for a group that represents more than 250 McDonalds restaurants in North Georgia.

Most of the chain is owned by franchisors who set wages, but in general, pay and benefits are being sweetened to attract workers, she said. “There’s paid time off, free employee meals and flexible schedules.”

It’s part of an industry-wide resurgence, Jones said. “I was driving near home and every single restaurant had a ‘Now Hiring’ sign.”

Other employers from poultry processors to Amazon are also offering bonuses and increased pay to attract workers.

Growth is also likely in the part of the economy that makes and handles goods.

The Georgia Ports Authority has been handling more cargo than ever, mostly imported goods, but also exports. Virtually all those goods must be moved through the state, boosting warehouse and other jobs along the way.

“The volume of trade is some indication of economic health,” said Roger Tutterow, director of the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University.

One sign of that: Speedway Transit this week said it is hiring truck drivers with average pay of $65,000 a year, according to a spokesman.

More than 234,000 jobs are listed on the state government’s job site.

Since the pandemic began, the Department of Labor has processed more than 4.8 million claims for unemployment, more than one-third of them judged to be valid. And the transition from massive shutdowns to a normally functioning economy has not been smooth, and several hundred thousand Georgians are still without work.

More than 24,553 people filed jobless claims last week, most of them re-filing claims a year after being laid off due to the pandemic, state officials said.

Many claimants wait months for benefit payments or a hearing on their applications, a situation that caused six Democratic members of the Georgia Congressional delegation to send a critical letter to the state Department of Labor this week.

Up to 80,000 people are waiting, said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee. “Georgians are lawfully entitled to the benefits they applied for. It’s time for answers and for solutions.”

Butler, a Republican, rejected the claim, arguing that the hold-ups are largely because “a high number of claimants that have applied for their second year of benefits and have been found to possibly be committing fraud.”

Many people went back to work, at least for a while, but did not report it, he said.

Metro Atlanta unemployment rate

April 2021: 3.9%

April 2020: 12.6%

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Metro Atlanta jobs

Lost in pandemic: 381,500

Gained in past 12 months: 249,500

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Job postings

Metro Atlanta: 234,425

Georgia: 234,425

Source: Georgia Department of Labor

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