Georgia added 16,200 jobs in March; jobless rate remains at record low

Health care signed 24,100 more employees in the past year, Georgia’s largest jobs gainer
While rural hospitals close, healthcare jobs in metro areas rise. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

While rural hospitals close, healthcare jobs in metro areas rise. (Dreamstime/TNS)

With a blast of change-of-seasons hiring, the Georgia economy added more than twice the growth of an average March as the unemployment rate continued to linger at an all-time low, the Department of Labor said Thursday.

The jobless rate, which was 3.1% in the year’s first two months, remained there, while payrolls expanded by 16,200 jobs.

The story “starts with consistency,” said Bruce Thompson, the state commissioner of labor. “When it comes to building a strong economy, Georgia means business. We’re on the winning side of history.”

Georgia’s 3.1% rate is the lowest since the start of record keeping for Georgia in 1976, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Georgia’s unemployment rate, which counts only those actively seeking work, has been lower than the national average since February 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic.

During March, the Georgia sector with the most job gains was administrative and support services, the kinds of positions that are typically added as companies grow, the Department of Labor said.

But health care and social assistance had the second-largest gain, adding 5,000 jobs.

Moreover, the sector — which includes a range of jobs, from nurses to phlebotomists to home health workers — has been the biggest gainer during the past 12 months, adding 24,100 jobs. The sector now accounts for more than 609,000 jobs, roughly one of every eight jobs in the state, according to the Department of Labor.

And it’s expanding.

Health care and social assistance will lead all other sectors in job growth over the next few years, accounting for one of every five new jobs added by 2028, according to a Labor Department study

Aylo Health, which offers primary care, has recently added its 13th location and continues to have expansion plans, according to David King, the company’s chief human resource officer.

“We typically have a staff of about 20 or 25 to start, and we’re about at 40 when we’re full,” he said. “We plan to add 400 to 500 team members by the end of the year.”

That includes practitioners like doctors, nurses and physicians’ assistants, as well as the technicians, who handle imaging and lab work, and support staff, he said.

With hiring strong, the market for job candidates in health care continues to show the tightness that many employers were complaining about two years ago, King said. “It’s pretty common that people don’t even show up for interviews. And it’s common for people to accept jobs and not even show up for the first day of work.”

For job-seekers, including those with little experience, it’s been a generally welcoming market.

A survey showed 97% of last year’s Emory University graduates who weren’t back in school had landed jobs within six months of graduation, according to a spokeswoman. The university expects similar placement this year, she said.

A year ago, economists were predicting recession, expecting the dramatic hikes in interest rates engineered by the Federal Reserve to bring an end to growth. And while the Fed’s hikes have chopped inflation down from nearly double-digits to 3.5%, it hasn’t dropped to the Fed’s target.

So, the rates stay high.

There have been signs of deceleration in the past year: a 33% drop in the number of job openings, a 43% fall in the number of people quitting jobs, signaling less confidence in easily finding another, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet companies have kept hiring.

March unemployment historically has averaged 5.8% in Georgia, but it has been below 4% for 33 consecutive months. Simply put, hiring has been healthy, but the number of people entering the workforce has not kept pace.

“The labor market is still tight,” said Sheryl LaPlace, a human resources consultant in Atlanta for Insperity, an HR company.

Moreover, the pandemic left many people more concerned than before with the way a job fits with their lives, she said. “They want robust benefits, they care about the culture. We see with most job candidates, while you are interviewing them, they are interviewing you.”

The labor force rose by 8,366 last month, the Department of Labor. But for a wide range of reasons, many people of working age remain out of the job market. Georgia’s labor force participation rate — which measures the share of working-age people either working or looking for work — last month was 61.4%, well shy of the pre-pandemic level.

If the rate were the same as it was five years ago, there would be 122,400 more people in the workforce.

With the pool of job candidates relatively shallow, many employers have been convinced to hire people they might have passed over before.

That can be good for the hiring of people who have been incarcerated, people with disabilities, racial minorities and immigrants, and it makes companies more willing to train people who don’t have experience, LaPlace said.

Georgia’s unemployment rate, March

Highest, pre-pandemic: 10.8% (2010)

Lowest, pre-pandemic: 3.6% (2000, 2001)

Average, pre-pandemic: 6.1%

Median, pre-pandemic: 5.3%

Recent: 3.1% (March, 2024)

Georgia’s job change, March

Highest, pre-pandemic: 28,400 (2014)

Lowest, pre-pandemic: -25,300 (2009)

Average, pre-pandemic: 5,800

Recent: 16,200 (March, 2024)

Unemployment rate

March, 2024

Georgia: 3.1%

U.S.: 3.8%

March, 2023

Georgia: 3.2%

U.S.: 3.5%

March, five years ago (2019)

Georgia: 3.7%

U.S.: 3.8%

Job growth, past year

Georgia: 1.9%

U.S.: 1.1%

Georgia: 55,000

U.S.: 2.93 million

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics