Over the past year, construction has been one of Georgia’s strongest sectors for job growth. AJC file photo

Georgia economy last month bucked national weakness

While the national numbers showed an economic hiccup in February, Georgia didn’t seem to notice.

The state added about 7,500 jobs during the month on the strength of hiring across a range of sectors, the Georgia Department of Labor reported Thursday. That’s slightly above the average of the previous five Februarys.

“We’re only two months into the year, but we started 2019 strong,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner. “Those are solid gains.”

The unemployment rate ticked up from 3.8 percent to 3.9 percent – as it typically does during February, when many people resume job searches after taking holiday breaks.

The jobless rate now is lower than it’s been in any February since 2001, the month before the start of a recession, when unemployment was 3.6 percent. And, last year, Georgia added a total of more than 90,000 jobs.

One indicator of economic strength has been construction in the state: The number of jobs in the sector has grown by nearly 8 percent in the past year, reaching its highest level since 2008, as the housing market crashed and recession deepened.

Georgia’s showing contrasted with the performance of the national economy, which gained just 20,000 jobs in February. In the previous 12 months, the U.S. gained an average of 234,917 jobs a month.

Economists often warn against putting too much stock in any one month’s snapshot. Despite a trade tussle with China, U.S. economic growth and hiring were strong last year. Some experts speculated last month’s national shortfall was partly caused by the partial government shutdown.

Whatever the cause, “I don’t see any parallel to the national numbers,” said Gary Wood, chief executive of Atlanta-based MATRIX, a staffing company that places tech employees. “The demand for jobs is as high as it was a year ago or two years ago, maybe higher.”

Still, nearly one-fifth of the corporate workforce is now contingent – that is, temp and contract workers, according to staffing industry data. When companies are worried about the near-term future, they can cut those workers quickly.

Concerns about an economic slowdown began rising late in the year because of a stock market roller-coaster that dropped a lot more than it climbed.

But those headlines about Wall Street had no impact in Georgia, Wood said. “We don’t pay a lot of attention to the stock market. The general economy is what we care about, and it’s something you can’t always predict.”

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