COMING SUNDAY IN BUSINESS, AND NOW ON MYAJC.COM: A conversation with Dennis Lockhart, Atlanta Fed President, on the recent Fed rate hike and the outlook for 2016.
Metro Atlanta’s unemployment rate fell in November to 5.0 percent, down nearly a half-point from October and the lowest in more than seven years, the Georgia Labor Department reported Thursday.
The region added 18,400 jobs during the month to cap the best three-month job growth of any autumn since the government started tracking metro numbers in 1990.
Businesses have been increasingly ready to borrow and expand, investing in facilities, technology and people, said Allison Dukes, chair and chief executive of SunTrust’s Atlanta division.
“The third quarter our loan balances were up almost 6 percent over the same period last year. We see continued growth and expansion, and that growth is coming from multiple areas.”
Businesses see demand for what they do and they are confident enough to take some financial risks, Dukes said. “Business remains optimistic in metro Atlanta. All things being equal, you should see job growth” in 2016.
In November of last year, the jobless rate was 6.1 percent. Since then, the region has added 86,500 jobs, said Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner. “Over the year be we had some very good numbers.”
Last week the Labor Department reported a statewide rate of 5.6 percent and fewer than 4,000 new jobs in November. Part of the difference may lie in the fact that state figures are adjusted to factor out seasonal patterns, which often show increased hiring in the fall.
The metro Atlanta numbers are not seasonally adjusted, and as a result can be more volatile. But even if they were adjusted the latest report would look good, as the region easily out-did its average of 12,900 new jobs for past Novembers.
Matching national rate
The national jobless rate is 5.0 percent. Since the recession began in late 2007, metro Atlanta’s rate has been below the nation’s only in one month.
Metro Atlanta’s drop from 5.4 percent joblessness in October came on relatively broad hiring with retail leading the way – as it usually does in the fall – but there was also job growth in healthcare, leisure and hospitality and local government.
There were declines too, namely in construction – as usually happens this time of year – but also, more troublingly, in technology.
Retreat in those two generally good-paying sectors raises a question about the quality of the jobs being created since retail and some of the other surging sectors tend to be at the lower end of the pay scale.
The region still has more than 140,000 people who are officially unemployed, many of them out of work more than six months – and that doesn’t include many discouraged workers who gave up looking for a job. The data also indicates that many of the people who are working have more than one job – a sign of low-wages and part-time hours.
In an interview this week with the AJC, Dennis Lockhart, the president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, said that is a flaw that a strengthening economy could eliminate.
“I believe there remains a lot of room for a lot of improvement in the labor market,” he said.
Jobless claims up
And modest progress is being made: Not only has the official unemployment rate fallen, but the drop was not the result of discouraged job-seekers fleeing the workforce as it was for several years. This time, the labor force grew by 5,888 during the month.
At the same time, the number of first-time claims for unemployment insurance, an indicator of layoffs, were up.
Some of the cutting could be seasonal and many of the workers filing for assistance could be back at a job before long, suggested Butler, the labor commissioner. “A great number of those claims are going to be temporary in the manufacturing and construction areas.”
It was the second consecutive month of rising layoffs, which could also reflect the “headwinds” facing Georgia exports when the dollar’s value puts U.S. goods at a disadvantage in global trade. It could also be a sign of more “churn” in the economy – not a bad thing, so long as there are jobs for laid-off workers.
Atlanta continues to be the state’s economic engine.
November job growth in metro Atlanta was roughly five times as large as the state’s. And that continues a trend: Since November of last year, metro Atlanta has accounted for 93 percent of the jobs added in Georgia.