Atlanta pumps out strong job growth in February



Area economy defies rising inflation, interest-rate hikes and tech layoffs to add 93,000 jobs in the past year

The metro Atlanta economy added 15,600 jobs last month, the state Department of Labor said Thursday.

With growth stronger than during an average pre-pandemic February, the region’s unemployment rate held steady at a historically low 3.2%, despite growth in the number of people entering the workforce and seeking jobs.

Defying rising interest rates, higher-than-expected inflation, repeated layoffs among high-tech firms and predictions of an imminent downturn, Atlanta’s economy in the past year has added 93,000 jobs.

Demand for workers in many fields remains strong.

“I am never worried about having a job,” said Lizzell Francois of Atlanta, an accounting and financial management expert who is placed in contract positions by staffing company Robert Half. “There’s always a next job. I can usually roll off a project on Friday and start a new project on Monday.”

Despite a 16-month, rate-hiking campaign by the Federal Reserve aimed at taming inflation by slowing economic growth, the market continues to tilt in favor of jobseekers. Wages are up — and while the number of job openings has declined — still outpaces job seekers.

Moore Colson, Atlanta-based accounting consultants, has hired 58 people since the start of last year, said Chris Arnone, partner and vice chair. Salaries are up at least 15 percent in the past year and the company still has 26 open positions across a range of jobs, he said.

The tilt goes from white collar to blue.

Truckers are perennially in demand, said Kathryn Stewart, owner and CEO of Performance Trucking based in Lawrenceville. “We’ve brought on a couple of new employees over the past year, both entry-level positions,” she said, at starting salaries about 10% higher than a couple of years ago.

The Atlanta economy has 144,500 more jobs than when the pandemic started three years ago. In that same time, the labor force has only added 79,000 people.

Experts say that “labor shortage” has been caused by a mix of factors: COVID has disabled — or killed — many workers, immigration has only begun to rebound and childcare concerns have kept many parents from working.

Another key factor is demographic, said Nobel Prize-winning economist David Card of the University of California at Berkeley, speaking to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after a talk at Emory earlier this week.

“I think 20 to 40% of this is that we are at the peak of the baby boom,” he said. “These dudes are retiring like crazy and they are mostly not coming back.”

There’s also a shortfall of younger workers, he said. “People are also spending more time before getting that first job.”

Meanwhile, the need for workers hasn’t abated.

Consumer spending has been solid. With people streaming into restaurants and bars, hospitality led all sectors last month with 3,100 new jobs, according to the Department of Labor.

Metro Atlanta’s economy has also benefitted from massive federal spending on infrastructure, electric vehicle technology and pandemic-enhanced benefits for households, as well as a boosted military budget.

In Marietta, Lockheed Martin has hired engineers, electrical and other specialists for production of the C-130J Super Hercules and F-35s, said spokesman Rob Fuller. “In the past year, we have added nearly 350 new employees, bringing us to approximately 5,000.”

And while rate hikes make borrowing money more expensive, the expected chill hasn’t kept many businesses from growing.

For some firms, interest rates aren’t crucial. Others have products primed for helping with labor shortages. Some promise cost savings ideal for a downturn.

For Atlanta-based Verusen, it’s all three.

The company raised $40 million from investors and has grown to 50 employees. Verusen produces software aimed at making management of company supply chains more efficient.

That is especially valuable for clients that are short-staffed, said Paul Noble, founder and chief strategy officer.

While Atlanta has not been immune to labor shortages, it has not shed population.

According to national brokerage Redfin, 85% of wannabe homebuyers in the region were looking to stay within the metropolitan area. Atlanta added young professionals twice as fast as its overall growth, according to Conti Capital, a Dallas-based adviser to real estate investors.

‘The downside of being desirable is that more people are in competition for goods and services — especially homes. That raises prices and makes Atlanta inflation higher than the national average.’

And that means many people looking for side gigs to pick up some extra cash, said Daniel Altman, chief economist for Instawork, which connects businesses with people looking for hourly work.

Atlanta’s “flexible workers” are averaging 15 hours a month more than in other metros, he said.

The added population also propels investment in housing, even if a borrower can’t ignore rates, said Spencer Morris, president of The Allen Morris Company.

This is “an unusually difficult period,” he said. “Higher interest rates have made construction lending significantly more complex.”

Yet “compelling fundamentals” still matter most, said Morris, whose company this week closed on a $100-million loan to build a 327-unit apartment building in West Midtown.

Addition of new housing could eventually soften rent increases. But in the meantime, that kind of investment means more demand for construction and other jobs, paychecks that will in turn be fed back into the economy in consumer spending, feeding continued growth.

Metro Atlanta February

Best, pre-pandemic: 35,400 (2011)

Worst, pre-pandemic: -6,300 (2009)

Average, pre-pandemic: 12,500

Recent: 15,600 (2023)

Metro Atlanta unemployment rate

Highest, pre-pandemic: 11.1% (June 2009)

Lowest, pre-pandemic: 2.6% (Dec. 2000)

Recent: 3.2% (2023)

U.S. labor force by age since start of pandemic

16-19: up 345,000

20-24: up 644,000

25-54: up 1,535,000

55+: down 675,000

Falling share of people in workforce since 2020

25-54 year olds: down 1.9 percentage points

55+: down 1.9 percentage points

Women: down 0.7 percentage points

Overall: down 0.8 percentage points

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor