Construction crew working at Atlantic Station early in April. Construction jobs have grown faster than in any other sector. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia job growth slower, unemployment up

In a sign that the economy may be leveling off, Georgia’s job growth was weak in March while the number of unemployed ticked up for the fifth consecutive month.

After starting the year with two solid months of growth, the state’s economy added only 1,600 jobs in March, far fewer than usual at this time of year, according to a report released Thursday by the Georgia Department of Labor.

The number of unemployed stood at 198,972, edging up each month since October, when it was 190,380. Before then, it had dropped steadily since 2011.

But even if employers aren’t adding huge numbers of jobs, they are mostly holding on to the workers they have: The number of new claims for unemployment insurance was lower than a year ago, the department said.

That may be because, right now, companies consider the local economic climate healthy, said Jenna Kelly, Georgia division president for SunTrust Bank. “We find that businesses are optimistic about their own business, but when it comes to the overall optimism about the U.S. and global economy, there’s more doubt.”

A SunTrust survey shows increased concern about trade or other problems hurting the larger economy next year, said Kelly. “Nowhere do we see any sign of a slowdown in Atlanta.”

The state, in general, is creating jobs at an impressive pace, said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner. “These are the kinds of trends I like to see,” he said. “We’ve been adding jobs and seeing fewer layoffs consistently. Georgia’s had a great run for the past few years.”

Butler cited the addition of 3,500 jobs this year in leisure and hospitality — positions in hotels, conference centers, restaurants and cafes that signal strong consumer spending.

But the strongest growth has been in the construction sector, which has expanded by more than 7 percent as the state – especially Atlanta – enjoys robust growth in office- and home-building.

Demand for construction workers has outpaced supply, said Michael Dunham, chief executive of Associated General Contractors of Georgia. “There are just not enough electricians, carpenters, plumbers, iron workers and laborers.”

Among builders, there is some worry that, without enough workers, growth could be stymied, he said.

Growth in the overall labor force has fueled demand for workers, but also has shown signs of topping out.

Over the past 12 months, the number of people in the labor force in Georgia has grown by about 29,000 despite a dip of 3,860 in March. 

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