Tech jobs are a strong spot in the metro Atlanta economy. Here, the leader of a local virtual reality program development company tries on a headset at a Georgia Tech event in 2015. SPECIAL

Metro jobless rate drops in July

The metro Atlanta unemployment rate edged down to 5.1 percent in July, from 5.3 percent in June, as the number of people with jobs outpaced the growth in jobseekers, the government reported Thursday.

That improvement came despite a pick-up in layoffs and tepid hiring: a separate survey showed the number of jobs actually slipping by 500.

Growth in 2016 has been slower than in the past two years, but it’s not a dramatic deceleration and the longer-term trajectory still looks good. A year ago, the unemployment rate was 6.0 percent and since then, metro Atlanta’s economy has added 74,800 jobs.

“I think there’s a lot more juice left in this expansion cycle,” said Mekael Teshome, economist for the PNC Financial Services Group. “Atlanta is sensitive to changes in the U.S. economy and nationally, there’s a good base for continued growth.”

The metro jobless rate report followed last week’s statewide report, which showed Georgia’s rate dipping to 5.0 in July, from 5.1 in June.

Factors slowing growth are mostly beyond the borders.

Among the big concerns are Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the Chinese economic stutter-step, which could erode trade and roil the stock market. Those worries have sent international money scampering to the safety of the dollar, which props up the buck’s value – and makes Georgia exports more expensive.

The contentious U.S. election campaign has heightened uncertainty about the direction of the country – the kind of unknown that often keeps companies and investors from making big bets.

Yet large portions of the economy are rolling.

Business is good and hiring is enthusiastic in the financial sector, said Eric Schimpf, managing director of the South Atlantic division for Merrill Lynch. “It is competitive out there. I continue to see people with two or three other job offers.”

The company, which has about 600 employees in metro Atlanta, expects to expand by more than 10 percent, he said. “It continues to be very robust for us at Merrill Lynch and for what we see in Atlanta.”

The region now has 166,300 financial sector jobs, up 12.1 percent during the recovery.

Even stronger is technology, with about 190,000 jobs in metro Atlanta, nearly one of every 10 jobs, according to the Technology Association of Georgia. The most common position is in computer user support, followed by computer systems analysts and software developers and programmers, according to TAG.

In some of those skills, there is a shortage, said Don Welsko, executive vice president at LexisNexis Risk Solutions, which has about 1,400 employees in metro Atlanta, most in Alpharetta.

The company plans to hire more than 100 people this year, many of them engineers and developers. “Software engineering is a huge need for us, at all levels.”

Most likely candidates are millennials and many of them prefer urban life to a long and crowded drive up Georgia 400, Welsko said. “We are looking at opening a site closer to the city. We are going to have to consider moving a little.”

Metro Atlanta still has more than 150,000 people out of work and searching for a job and more than one-third of the employed have been looking for more than six months.

Moreover, the data hints at some bumpiness in the recovery.

Since the start of 2010, the Atlanta economy has added 420,200 jobs – an expansion of 18.8 percent. In that same period, a separate government survey shows the number of employed people up by 321,600 – 13.0 percent.

More new jobs than workers — that mismatch implies that many people are working more than one job.

July’s weak showing was actually not as bad as a typical July.

In three previous years, metro Atlanta averaged job losses of 5,800 in July. There hasn’t been a month of job gains in July since 2004.

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