Healthcare jobs were among the standouts in January hiring, the state said. (Dominic Valente/The New York Times)
Photo: DOMINIC VALENTE
Photo: DOMINIC VALENTE

Georgia sees solid job growth, low unemployment in January

The Georgia economy got off to a stronger than usual start in January, adding 9,800 jobs, the state Department of Labor announced Thursday.

While the post-holiday job market is typically weak, the state saw solid growth in logistics, healthcare and hospitality, continuing a nearly decade-long expansion that has added more than 700,000 jobs and slashed unemployment rates to record lows.

“Labor statistics continue to show a strong job market in Georgia,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

The jobless rate for Georgia held steady at 3.1% in January, its lowest level since the government started keeping track in the mid-1970s.

New claims for unemployment insurance – a sign of layoffs – usually rise from December to January as companies let go of workers who were hired to handle the rush. And January’s claims were dramatically up from December. However, the claims were slightly lower than January a year ago.

The strikingly low unemployment rate came with Georgia’s labor force growing to 5.15 million people, up 1.1% from a year ago, Butler said.

January’s job numbers do not reflect the looming economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak, but they signal some vulnerabilities.

Economists have been predicting an impact in Georgia from the disease: Goods will not be arriving – especially from China — travel will be curtailed, and consumers may cut back on hospitality spending. Experts say the effect could be mild or severe, depending on how the disease progresses and how consumers react.

Manufacturing in the state, already struggling, could be hurt by a lack of materials and parts needed to build products. Hospitality – an estimated 300,000 jobs in metro Atlanta alone – depends on continued waves of visitors, conferences, trade shows and sports events.

And hundreds of thousands of jobs are connected to the ports, where officials say the volume of imported shipments could plunge up to 40% in March.

Whatever the virus-related consequence, they will not likely be visible in the statistics for several weeks.

Monthly data is erratic, so even without the virus worries, January’s strength is no promise of a strong year. And even before the outbreak, economists had predicted a slowdown.

For example, the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University predicted that job growth, which was 70,000 during the 2019 calendar year, would slip to 54,400 this year and 47,400 the next.

Few experts predict a recession in 2020, but some have said that if the virus hits trade hard, it might be enough to tip the economy into a downturn.

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