Metro Atlanta hiring hot in June, but unemployment still ticking up

Healthcare added more jobs than any other sector in November, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. Here, recruiters talking to potential employees during a job fair at Jackson Healthcare's Alpharetta offices. (Michael Blackshire/

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Healthcare added more jobs than any other sector in November, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. Here, recruiters talking to potential employees during a job fair at Jackson Healthcare's Alpharetta offices. (Michael Blackshire/

About 200 jobs were on offer Thursday at a job fair for Jackson Healthcare at its Alpharetta headquarters, part of the company’s — and the sector’s — continued expansion.

The hiring — which doesn’t even include the many clinical job openings the company has — bears witness to a metro Atlanta economy that has continued to grow despite increases in interest rates that have thus far only dampened the pace of expansion.

These jobs span the whole gamut,” said Shane Jackson, company president. “These are behind-the-scenes positions. Sales, management, operations, entry-level. And not a lot of the 200 is replacing vacancies.”

After 17 months of a Federal Reserve campaign to slow growth by making borrowing more costly for consumers and companies, hiring is still a challenge, Jackson said. “Finding talented, hard-working people is never easy.”

It has been especially difficult coming out of the pandemic with robust growth. Businesses need employees, yet many people have been sidelined by health, childcare and retirement, leaving companies struggling to find the good workers they need.

While the ratio of job openings to jobseekers has dipped and some sectors have tapped the brakes, there still isn’t the huge pool of jobless workers that gives employers the upper hand in hiring, setting wages and keeping unhappy employees.

The number of unemployed in metro Atlanta — out of work and actively searching for a job — was up by 3,438 during June, Bruce Thompson, the state’s labor commissioner, said Thursday.

But not because the economy was stalling.

In June, metro Atlanta added 15,100 jobs — more than triple the average for a pre-pandemic June — while the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.4% from 3.3% in May, Thompson said.

Healthcare has added the most jobs of any sector in the past year.

For 24 consecutive months, the region’s jobless rate has been below 4%, historically a marker of a healthy economy. Expansion has come from a range of sectors, from logistics to finance, said Fritz Valsaint, co-owner of Spherion staffing’s franchise on the south side of Atlanta.

— Morgan Stanley said Thursday it had signed a lease to use about 100,000 square feet of office space of an Alpharetta office complex as part of adding 1,800 employees, a goal set in 2020.

—Yakult U.S.A., a Japanese-based beverage company, recently announced plans to build a production facility in Bartow County, creating more than 90 new jobs.

“We continue to see a lot of strength in the economy,” Valsaint said. “We continue to see restaurants, all of hospitality really, with a lot of demand.”

Leisure and hospitality accounts for 10.5% of the jobs added since Feb. 2020.

“The need for staff is continual,” said Neal Idnani, co-owner of NaanStop which has three area restaurants employing about 35. “We can only do business if we have people, good people. The cost of not being staffed always outweighs the cost of hiring.”

But finding, hiring and keeping people is different from what it was a few years ago.

For starters, average pay is up at an annual rate of 5.6%, according to the Atlanta Fed’s wage tracker. Pay increases have been averaging more than 5% since late 2021, the Atlanta Fed said.

Inflation in early 2022 chewed up much of worker raises. But average pay has been higher than inflation for nearly a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Typical entry-level pay at NaanStop is $13 to $15 an hour, several dollars an hour higher than restaurants were paying a few years ago. And while higher wages matter, many workers are also more selective about conditions, hours, workplace atmosphere and the chances for advancement.

“The most important question is, what is the culture of your workplace?” Idnani said.

Employers say part of that is because workers found themselves with more power given the post-pandemic scramble to find people. But it is also because of a massive generational change as boomers retire and the median age in many workplaces plummets.

While a low jobless rate is good in general, economic health is a balance, said Thompson, the labor commissioner. Businesses need access to a pool of talent and a shortage of jobseekers is a potential problem.

The share of people working or wanting to work has grown, but it’s still significantly below its pre-pandemic level. The region’s labor force, including everyone with a job or actively looking for one, has grown to 3.2 million. That’s 64,000 more than before the pandemic, which is still less than half the number of jobs added during that time.

Which leaves the unemployment rate low. Employers compete for workers — and often cannot fill positions.

So, the key to healthy expansion is making it possible for people who’ve been on the sidelines to work, said Jenny Taylor, vice president of career services at Goodwill of North Georgia.

Goodwill, which has 3,000 employees, in the past year also trained and placed 22,000 people in jobs for other employers, she said. “There is still more demand for workers than there are jobseekers.”

Some demand is acute, like in health care or commercial driving, Taylor said. “They will hire them right away. If on paper they are qualified, they will get an offer.”

Yet many thousands of people — especially women — have been home with children, perhaps working “gig” jobs or not at all. With childcare or a flexible schedule, they could return to full-time work, she said.

“It’s about removing barriers,” Taylor said.

June jobs, metro Atlanta

Best: 23,100 (1996)

Worst: -18,100 (2009)

Average, pre-pandemic: 4,200

Recent: 15,100 (2023)

Unemployment rate, metro Atlanta

Best: 3.2% (1999)

Worst: 11.1% (2009)

Average, pre-pandemic: 5.9%

Recent: 3.4% (2023)

Labor force change June, metro Atlanta

Best: 35,005 (2016)

Worst: -3,380 (2015)

Average, pre-pandemic: 12,989

Recent: 14,188 (2023)

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics