Applicants fill out forms during a job fair hosted by Hartsfield-Jackson with more than 1,000 positions up for grabs. Officials said many of the opportunities will be part of ATLNext, the airport’s multibillion-dollar capital improvement program. (Photo by Phil Skinner)

Metro Atlanta jobs: strongest February hiring since 2011

Metro Atlanta last month cranked up the strongest February for hiring in seven years, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The region’s economy added 20,800 jobs, the third-best showing of the past two decades, as virtually all the economic metrics saw improvement, according to Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

“It’s good to see we picked up this year right where we left off from 2017,” he said.

Atlanta accounted for virtually all the jobs added in Georgia with hiring across a broad swatch of sectors, from the higher-paying corporate jobs to the lower-paying positions in leisure and hospitality. In the middle, construction too, grew robustly during the month.

The jobless rate was 4.3 percent, unchanged from January.

But with the workforce growing by 48,000 during the month, that signals good news: a sign that statistically, virtually all those new entrants found jobs. And since that growing workforce includes many new residents, that is a signal of Atlanta’s draw, Butler said.

“Even though the unemployment rate did not move, we continue to see individuals attracted to the area and we are continuing to see job growth,” he said.

Moreover, the jobless rate has slowly fallen since cresting at nearly 11 percent in 2010. The unemployment rate is now lower than it has been in any February since 2007, before the start of the recession.

Still, there is room for improvement.

About 133,000 people in metro Atlanta are out of work and more than one-quarter of them have been in the job hunt for a least six months. But they too could find work if the economy keeps growing.

And the unemployment rate could go still lower: between 1996 and late 2001, the metro Atlanta jobless rate was consistently below 4 percent. The rate bottomed out at 2.6 percent in late 2000.

But other factors could limit growth or even send the labor market in the opposite direction.

For example, the Federal Reserve, which manages the nation’s short-term interest rates, typically fears that a rock-bottom jobless rate would spark inflation and starts raising rates. Higher rates make borrowing more expensive, which chills the housing market, company expansions and hiring.

And in recent months, the Fed has been slowly raising rates again – though there is no sign yet that the change has cooled the economy.