Metro Atlanta jobless rate falls again in July

CarMax is holding a job fair this week hoping to hire 90 people. Academy Sports + Outdoors has just hired for 60 slots at a new store. Amdocs has 130 open positions in metro Atlanta that it is struggling to fill.

But it’s not just anecdotes that tell of a strong labor market.

The unemployment rate in metro Atlanta dropped to 2.8% in July, down from 3.2% the month before, while hiring was stronger than it usually is in mid-summer, according to a report Thursday from the Georgia Department of Labor.

“This summer, we have seen unemployment rates drop while job numbers have climbed,” said Mark Butler, state labor commissioner.

Since late last year, the Federal Reserve has been lifting short-term interest rates with the goal of slowing economic growth as a way to tame inflation. While recent reports do show inflation ebbing, signs of a chill in the labor market are hard to see.

“We are not seeing any slowdown at this point,” said Victoria Myers, regional head of talent acquisition for Amdocs, which provides billing and customer support to communications companies. “The demand is very high.”

Amdocs has 38,000 employees, including 480 in Atlanta, many of them software developers and testers, Myers said. “There is a lot of competition in the market for that skill-set.”

Moreover, demand is not limited to tech talent, according to the labor department.

The largest growth during the month was in accommodation and food services, which expanded by 4,100 jobs. Also increasing were professional services, which added 2,700 jobs, health care which grew by 1,800 and the logistics sector, which enlarged by 1,300.

The state’s jobs site also has about 108,000 open positions listed in metro Atlanta, which is more than the number of people in the region who are out of work and actively seeking a job.

During downturns, a deep pool of jobseekers makes it easy for employers to hire for open positions, but now, the situation is reversed, said Jill Eubank, senior vice president at Randstad, a global staffing agency. “It’s every sector. I don’t think there’s any job that is easy to fill.”

Metro Atlanta data is not adjusted to account for seasonal patterns and when it comes to mid-summer hiring habits, the routine is retreat. With most schools closed, some factories on furlough and many hiring executives on vacation, metro Atlanta has historically lost an average of 11,000 jobs during July.

So while the Atlanta economy actually shed 1,100 jobs during the month, that’s much better than usual.

In contrast, with vacations ending and schools back in session, August is typically a month of strong hiring in the area, adding an average of 18,500 jobs.

That means that the economy now could face a heightened — if unusual — challenge.

Companies needing workers are already having trouble obtaining them quickly, and more than 90% of firms surveyed by staffing company Robert Half say they plan to hire, either filling positions they currently have open or expanding, said James Taylor, senior regional director.

That puts a premium on the ability to retain good workers, because those who are unhappy with their situation can find something else, he said. “About eight out of 10 companies say they are worried about workers quitting.”

The shallow pool of job candidates can be at least partly pegged to the pandemic.

In the early months of the pandemic, tens of thousands of workers left the workforce. As the economy rebounded, many returned. The metro Atlanta labor force is now about 54,000 larger than it was in February 2020, but if pre-pandemic expansion had continued, that number would be much larger.

Some potential workers are at home with children or elderly relatives. Some retired early. Some may be suffering from the effects of “Long COVID” -- the lingering health complications of the virus -- which some experts calculate affects up to 2% of the workforce.

The share of Georgians who are in the labor force has not come back to its pre-pandemic levels, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while it has been generally increasing, the number of people in the labor force decreased in July.

The national unemployment rate, reported earlier this month, also declined in July, dipping from 3.6% to 3.5%.


Metro Atlanta labor market

Unemployment rate, metro Atlanta

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

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

Recent: 2.4% (July, 2022)

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Change in number of jobs, July

Largest loss, pre-pandemic: -33,100 (2002)

Largest gain, pre-pandemic: 2,600 (2004)

Average change, pre-pandemic: -11,000

Recent: -1,100 (2022)

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July change in work force

Average, pre-pandemic: 14,698

Biggest loss, pre-pandemic: -6,251 (2003)

Biggest gain, pre-pandemic: 39,347 (2016)

Recent: -11,145 (July 2022)

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor

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