Metro Atlanta job growth strong though jobless rate ticks up

Metro Atlanta hiring boomed in October as the region added 25,700 jobs while the region’s economy geared up for its seasonal surge, the Georgia Department of Labor reported.

While housing has been hard hit by rising interest rates, and the unemployment rate ticked up, hiring was solid in a number of sectors, including tech, retail, hospitality and health care, according to Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

“Job seekers have continued to experience a favorable hiring environment across multiple job sectors,” Butler said.

Help Wanted signs are still common despite the anti-inflation efforts by the Federal Reserve, which for a year has been raising short-term interest rates. With those changes leeching into mortgage rates, the Fed has managed to tank the housing market, but it hasn’t stymied most other consumer spending or job growth.

For instance, Gwinnett County officials last week announced plans for a $1.2 million expansion of Case Discount Flooring in Buford, a project they said would add 15 jobs.

The last three months of the year historically account for more than half the year’s hiring with retailers, distributors, logistics and hospitality companies often doing a healthy business.

Last month’s growth was even stronger than usual: Hiring in October was nearly double the pre-pandemic average for the month. Pre-pandemic, only one October has been stronger, 2015, when the region’s economy added 29,500 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Department of Labor did report a rise in the jobless rate to 2.9% from 2.5% in September, but that is still a historically low level. Prior to this year, the metro unemployment rate had only edged below 3% during the final stages of the tech boom in 1999.

Moreover, October’s increase in the jobless rate was not all bad news, since it was largely fueled by a jump in the number of people joining the labor force. That kind of expansion often happens when jobs are plentiful, employers are less selective and previously discouraged workers come off the sidelines looking for a job.

The metro Atlanta labor force last month increased by 8,796. It has grown by nearly 62,000 in the past 12 months, according to the Department of Labor. In that same year, the region’s economy has added 153,600 jobs, according to the Department of Labor.

Employ Georgia, the Department of Labor’s listing service, showed 78,000 postings for metro Atlanta in October. Among those with the most job were Wellstar Health System, Home Depot, Piedmont Healthcare and Amazon, the department said.

Still, there are signs that the growth trajectory’s end could be coming. Job openings peaked in the spring as the Fed first ramped up its rate-hike campaign. Moreover, many economists are convinced that while the Fed will soon see much lower inflation, it will also be spurring higher unemployment.

A downturn is coming, said Olu Sonola, head of U.S. Regional Economics for Fitch Ratings this week. “The lagged impact of aggressive Fed tightening, the drag on real wages from high inflation, and knock-on impacts from the downturn in Europe will drive the U.S. economy into recession territory next year.”

The national jobless rate will peak at 5.3%, he predicted.

Metro Atlanta job growth, October

Average, pre-pandemic: 13,200

Strongest, pre-pandemic: 29,500 (2015)

Recent: 25,700 (2022)

Metro Atlanta unemployment rate

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

Lowest, pre-pandemic: 2.6% (Dec. 1999)

Recent: 2.9% (October, 2022)

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics