In contrast, this boom is powered not by investment, but by consumer spending, and — barring a virus-driven retreat — prospects are good, Butler said. “There is still a lot more to go. I’m like a broken record, but we have a lot of jobs we need to fill.”
To fill those jobs, companies that need workers are scrambling and the competition for employees has spurred offers of better benefits, more flexibility and higher wages.
Starting pay pre-pandemic at the Cargill plant in Newnan was $15 an hour, Butler said. “I drove by a billboard the other day on I-85 that said it’s $19 now. And that’s with no degree. Just walk in.”
Tech skills are also in demand, especially software engineers, said Frank Green, president of ExecuSource, an Atlanta-based executive search company.
“If you are a ‘Dot Net’ developer, you could get three, four, five job offers in a week,” he said.
In the first months of the economic recovery, many people stayed on the sidelines and did not seek work. At the time, some took advantage of government jobless benefits, which were at their most generous. But even as those faded, some people were needed for child care, some decided to live off a partner’s income and some were either disabled by COVID-19 or afraid of catching it.
Recent research indicates the biggest component leaving the workforce might be early retirements, but that choice is not always permanent, according to labor economist Ian Schmutte of the University of Georgia.
“I do think the number of retirements is significant,” he said. “And it is possible that as wages go up and people get used to the way thing are, that some of those people will come back out of retirement.”
As it has been since March 2020, COVID-19 remains cause for uncertainty, most recently in the sudden spread of the omicron variant. Some initial studies suggest omicron infections are milder than earlier versions despite appearing to be more contagious, but health authorities caution much is still not known, and the sharp rise in cases has prompted some business closures.
November data was collected before any impact of omicron.
Since the depths of the pandemic-triggered shutdowns, metro Atlanta has regained 376,600 jobs, and is just 4,900 jobs shy of its level in February 2020.
The region accounts for 67% of the state’s gains since the first months of the pandemic. Last month, Atlanta represented 61% of the jobs, based on data that had not been adjusted for seasonal trends.
Metro Atlanta unemployment rate*
Lowest, pre-pandemic: 2.6%, (Dec. 2000)
Highest, pre-pandemic: 11.1% (June, 2009)
Highest, during pandemic: 12.6% (April, 2000)
Recent: 2.2% (November, 2021)
Metro Atlanta job growth
November, 2021: 26,900
Average November, 2001 to 2019: 14,200
Since Feb. 2020: -4,900
Since April 2020: 376,600
Most jobs added, November
Transportation and Warehousing: 6,900
Accommodation and Food Services: 4,200
Wholesale Trade: 1,700
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services: 1,400
Health Care and Social Assistance: 1,000
*Rate includes only those actively seeking a job
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor