Metro Atlanta’s jobless rate hit record low in September

Atlanta added about 4,000 jobs last month, faster than a typical September. Meanwhile many more people came into the labor market looking for work as the economy gears up for the holidays. That seasonal surge in spending typically accounts for much of the year's job growth. But will it be that way this time?  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Caption
Atlanta added about 4,000 jobs last month, faster than a typical September. Meanwhile many more people came into the labor market looking for work as the economy gears up for the holidays. That seasonal surge in spending typically accounts for much of the year's job growth. But will it be that way this time? (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Credit: AP

Metro Atlanta continued its long and winding economic recovery in September, adding 4,000 jobs while the unemployment rate fell to the lowest level on record.

The jobless rate, which rose into double digits in the early months of the pandemic in 2020, fell to 2.5% last month from 3.1% in August, the Georgia Department of Labor reported Thursday.

About 72,000 people are officially unemployed, the lowest number in two decades, but that counts only people actively looking for a job.

By a broader measure, which includes unemployed people not actively looking for a job, Georgia’s labor force was still 48,000 workers below its pre-pandemic level.

An estimated 300,000 job openings are listed in the state, many — likely the majority — in metro Atlanta, and the lack of workers has been blamed for the difficulties of many companies in filling those jobs.

A number of factors seem to have kept potential workers on the sidelines, including challenges of finding affordable child care, early retirement, a reliance on savings or a spouse’s income while hunting for a better position, and the effects of the coronavirus.

More than 20,000 Georgians have died from the virus, which also leaves many survivors with long-term medical problems. There have been nearly 1.3 million confirmed cases in the state.

ExploreGeorgia’s jobless rate hits record low, but workers still hanging back

When the pandemic started, metro Atlanta took a harder hit than the rest of the state, losing 382,000 jobs. That represented 65% of the state’s losses. Slightly more than half of Georgia’s population lives in the metro area.

As the economy came back, the rebound has been slightly slower than that of the state overall, with metro Atlanta still 70,900 jobs shy of its pre-pandemic level.

Still, the overall direction of the economy has been positive for more than a year since the worst of the COVID-triggered closures and job cuts, said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner. “We are seeing all-time low unemployment rates throughout the state of Georgia reflecting an economy that is continuing to rapidly recover.”

Moreover, the region is entering the holiday season, which has historically been a period of robust hiring.

In nine of the 10 years before the pandemic, the last three months of the year accounted for more than half of the year’s hiring. That is largely because of the need for workers to handle, move, deliver and sell goods that Americans buy at the holidays.

Atlanta has in recent years been increasingly a hub for logistics — especially warehousing and transportation — that are crucial in the surging use of online ordering.

According to an annual Conference Board survey, U.S. consumers intend to spend an average of $648 on holiday gifts this year, not as much as 2019, but higher than any prior year.

In September, about 1,400 jobs were added in transportation and warehousing in Georgia, according to the Department of Labor. Other growing sectors included government, retail and wholesale.

Jobs were lost in health care and hospitality, both of which have struggled through the pandemic as consumers avoided in-person encounters and entertainment.


Metro Atlanta economy

Number of jobs added in September: 4,000

Average job change, pre-pandemic September: -3,100

Number of people entering workforce in September: 4,244

Average number entering workforce in September: 24,641

Unemployment* rate, September: 2.5%

Unemployment* rate, August: 3.1%

Change in unemployment rate from August: -0.6 percentage points

Average pre-pandemic change in September rate: -0.3 percentage points

Job growth, first quarter, 2021: -11,500

Job growth, second quarter, 2021: 46,100

Job growth, third quarter, 2021: 20,800

Average job growth, fourth quarter, pre-pandemic: 41,800

Metro Atlanta and the state

Number of jobs added since April, 2020

Georgia: 512,000

Metro Atlanta: 311,000

Number of jobs compared to Feb. 2020

Georgia: -88,300

Metro Atlanta: -70,900

Metro Atlanta’s share of state job growth

2011-2020: 75%

Since April, 2020: 61%

* The unemployment rate includes only people who are jobless but searching for work.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor

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