As Atlanta hiring grows, churning labor market offers workers choices

Signs advertise openings at a Crunch Fitness gym in Dunwoody on Thursday, April 21, 2022. J. SCOTT TRUBEY

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Signs advertise openings at a Crunch Fitness gym in Dunwoody on Thursday, April 21, 2022. J. SCOTT TRUBEY

Metro Atlanta unemployment rate reached new low of 2.4% in April.

David Umbach edits scientific and technical manuscripts from all over the world. The pay is good, the work is satisfying and as a freelancer, he has more control of his days than ever before.

He stumbled into freelancing after being laid off a couple years ago and stuck with it.

“Some days I make zero and some days I make $1,000,” said Umbach, who lives in Woodstock. “I probably work the same 40 to 60 hours I did before, but it’s not about working less. It’s about working where I can and when I can.”

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David Umbach of Woodstock makes his living as a freelancer, editing scientific and technical work from around the world.

Credit: HABEEB MUKASA

David Umbach of Woodstock makes his living as a freelancer, editing scientific and technical work from around the world.

Credit: HABEEB MUKASA

Combined ShapeCaption
David Umbach of Woodstock makes his living as a freelancer, editing scientific and technical work from around the world.

Credit: HABEEB MUKASA

Credit: HABEEB MUKASA

The number of freelancers has grown in metro Atlanta, a change that shines a light on the larger landscape: A strong labor market has provided workers with generally better pay and more choices.

Despite rising interest rates and continued inflation, metro Atlanta added 10,900 jobs last month, slightly better than the average pre-pandemic April, the Georgia Department of Labor reported Thursday.

The metro Atlanta unemployment rate dropped from an already-scanty 3.2% to an all-time low of 2.4%. That represents 77,387 people in the region in the hunt for a job — the lowest number since mid-2001.

ExploreGeorgia job growth strong in April as unemployment remains at record low

The jobless rate has stayed low despite a flood of people coming off the sidelines back to work. Atlanta’s labor force — everyone working or looking for a job — has grown by 88,044 in the past 12 months, more than one-quarter of that since the start of this year.

Though there is concern nationally of an economic slowdown as the Federal Reserve works to tame inflation, hiring in metro Atlanta remains strong.

Many people stopped working early in the pandemic to care for children, take early retirement or out of fear, and the recent expansion represents people who have been lured back by plentiful jobs and higher pay, said Jill Eubank, vice president of staffing company Randstad.

“We are seeing many candidates who left the workforce coming back,” she said.

With many job openings going unfilled, employers are competing for workers, so people can jump from one job to another.

The average paycheck has been growing at a 6%-a-year clip, while people who switch jobs are averaging 7.2%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, which tracks wages.

Yet it’s not always about pay, it can also be a question of schedule or flexibility.

“Some people want remote work, but not everybody does,” Eubank said. “Some people want a hybrid, part remote, part in the office.”

Employers face an unusual mix of factors, said Jonathan Chavis, senior vice president at Bank of America in Atlanta.

Prices of goods and services are up, as well as the cost of hiring. Meanwhile, demand is still robust, and companies do not want their customers to go elsewhere.

So many small business owners are working overtime themselves, he said, and “They are struggling to find quality talent at key positions.”

Growth has come in a number of sectors, fueled by consumer and business spending. The service sector hit an all-time high of 591,000 jobs in April, according to Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

One example is Herb’N Eden. The Douglasville company that sells skincare and other beauty products, and has 28 employees, mainly in production, distribution and marketing, according to a company spokeswoman. Three have been hired in the past several weeks, starting at $14 an hour.

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Herb'N Eden of Douglasville has expanded its skin and beauty business

Credit: cus

Herb'N Eden of Douglasville has expanded its skin and beauty business

Credit: cus

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Herb'N Eden of Douglasville has expanded its skin and beauty business

Credit: cus

Credit: cus

Competition for workers has meant turnover, as employees leave for better paying alternatives, so the company plans to raise its pay, she said.

The government uses two different surveys to collect job statistics. In one, it contacts residents and asks if they are working, and if they are not, whether they are looking for a job. The unemployment rate is calculated from that data.

In the other survey, the government asks employers to count the number of positions they have on the payroll.

In the first survey, freelancers and gig workers would be counted. In the second, they might not.

Many of those people who are not on payrolls are working gig jobs, driving for Lyft, Uber or DoorDash. Others work for families as nannies and cleaners. Much of that work is low-paid and unpredictable, often done by immigrants or people with limited education who have trouble finding better work.

Yet for people with the right skills, like Umbach, the manuscript editor, a freelance job is a matter of choice.

Metro Atlanta has roughly 164,000 skilled freelancers, from designers and accountants to techies and architects, said Brent Messenger, vice president of Fiverr, which provides an online place for employers to find freelancers.

That number is up 20% in the past five years, he said.

A growing economy and a shortage of workers combines to improve worker choices, Messenger said.

“We see changes in how people are working,” he said. We see people moving around, popping up different locations.”

And using business demand as a way to pick up extra income on the side, too.

Tangela Greene, of Atlanta, who works full-time as a sound designer, realized several years ago that she could make money as a voiceover artist. So she works a few hours a week recording advertisements, announcements, phone messages and online narratives for businesses.

Some weeks there’s more work, some less, but there’s a stream of income for her and her husband to spend on vacations trips or entertainment.

“It is definitely something that works for me,” she said. “I can make up to $3,000 in a month.”

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Tangela Greene of Atlanta has a full-time job as a sound designer, but she works a few hours a week as a voice-over artist.

Credit: cus

Tangela Greene of Atlanta has a full-time job as a sound designer, but she works a few hours a week as a voice-over artist.

Credit: cus

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Tangela Greene of Atlanta has a full-time job as a sound designer, but she works a few hours a week as a voice-over artist.

Credit: cus

Credit: cus


Number of freelance professionals, metro Atlanta

2017: 136,577

2018: 146,470

2019: 150,867

2020: 153,290

2021: 164,397

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Number of freelancers, by metro

New York: 596,350

Los Angeles: 429,777

Miami: 222,230

Chicago: 205,297

Washington, D.C.: 195,352

Dallas: 177,556

Atlanta: 164,397

San Francisco: 164,178

Houston: 144,219

Boston: 136,899

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Metro Atlanta labor market, April

Unemployment rate: 2.4%

Jobs: up 10,900

Metro Atlanta labor market, past year

Unemployment rate: down 0.8 percentage points

Jobs: up 184,100

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Fiverr, Rockbridge Associates, Census Bureau.