A “help wanted” sign hangs on a window of a restaurant earlier this month. Metro Atlanta’s jobless rate has slid to a 17-year low. (Photo by /Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Raedle
Photo: Joe Raedle

Hiring in metro Atlanta powers state in May; unemployment rate down

May was a good month for hiring in metro Atlanta as the region saw solid job growth and an unemployment rate falling to its lowest point since 2001.

About 12,400 jobs were added, according to the state Department of Labor.

But the most-cited economic number is typically the unemployment rate. In most years, that rate holds even or rises from April to May, but this year, joblessness dipped from 3.6 percent to 3.4 percent.

The rate doesn’t include people who are not looking for a job, so the rate sometimes falls when jobseekers get discouraged and leave the labor force. Not this time: the improvement in May came with the labor force expanding.

That signals an economy in which most new jobseekers find work, but a troubling share of those who don’t – nearly 30 percent – have been looking for more than six months, according to the government.

Still, most of the economic indicators in Thursday’s report were upbeat: for example, new jobless claims were about 10 percent lower in metro Atlanta than they were in May of last year.

The strongest expansion came in blue-collar sectors with modest to low pay: construction, logistics, leisure and hospitality.

Hiring in the higher-paying corporate jobs has been sluggish, according to state officials.

Yet not all logistics jobs are in warehouses or driving forklifts.

Flexport, which coordinates and tracks freight shipments around the world, is hiring experts in managing supply chains, as well as finances, account managers and legal help, according to Kaitlyn Glancy, senior vice president.

The logistics sector is large and growing here for good reason, she said. “We are here partly because of the airport in Atlanta, the ocean port in Savannah and the amount of freight that moves through here.”

The company is based in San Francisco, but has about 75 employees in Atlanta along with plans to expand to about 330 workers over the next few years, she said.

The company will hire from local universities, as well as other companies, expecting to bring some employees from elsewhere, Glancy said. “It will be a mix.”

While the state’s economy overall has been expanding, metro Atlanta continues to account for the majority of growth.

During the past year, the Atlanta area’s addition of 46,000 jobs accounted for 60 percent of Georgia’s job growth. And in May, metro Atlanta accounted for 72 percent of the state’s job growth, according to data provided by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank.

Month-to-month data can be erratic, but there are patterns.

For instance, the economy usually sheds many jobs in January as retailers and others make post-holiday cuts – and those losses were typical this year. However, the metro economy has now followed that with four months of growth, pulling the year into positive territory.

So far, the Atlanta economy has added 2,500 jobs – weaker than several years ago, but stronger than 2017.

While the long economic expansion shows no signs of ending, some economists and business people this week said they are concerned about the impact of the nation’s tariff spats with China, the European Union and Canada. Others say the effect will be muted.

In any event, it’s unlikely that the tariffs and tweets will show up in June numbers. Perhaps in the next month, when the economy typically losses jobs anyway as schools close for the summer and some factories furlough workers.

During the past five years, the metro Atlanta economy has shed an average of 7,400 jobs in July, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Kaitlyn Glancy, senior vice president, Flexport
Photo: Picasa