Metro Atlanta added jobs in May, but unemployment rate up

Happens every May: new grads in the labor force looking for work
A Morehouse College student lines up before the school commencement, May 19 in Atlanta. The region added positions last month, but not as many as the number of new jobseekers. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A Morehouse College student lines up before the school commencement, May 19 in Atlanta. The region added positions last month, but not as many as the number of new jobseekers. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Metro Atlanta added 8,500 jobs in May, but the hiring wasn’t rapid enough to soak up new graduates looking for work, the Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday.

Job growth was uneven, as the robust growth of the past several years continued to moderate in the face of high interest rates, which make borrowing more costly for companies and consumers alike. Expansion during the month was solid in hospitality, local government and health care, but there were job losses elsewhere, the department said.

It’s a yearly pattern.

Graduates from high school and college typically enter the workforce in late spring, and since many do not find jobs immediately, that flow boosts the unemployment rate.

The number of people in the workforce grew by 15,520, pushing the unemployment rate to 3.4%, up from 2.8% in April, said Bruce Thompson, the state’s labor commissioner.

“This seasonal increase in workforce participation significantly impacts summertime unemployment rates,” he said.

Overall jobless claims that typically follow layoffs are 15% below the levels of a year ago, the Department of Labor said. In May, metro Atlanta had 110,547 people officially unemployed — jobless, but actively seeking work.

That is out of a labor force of nearly 3.3 million.

While the rise in unemployment is not welcome, the rate is still historically low. Moreover, May was the 35th consecutive month that the level was below 4%, and — at least so far — there are few signs of an impending downturn.

A few companies have reported job cuts to state officials. Several Walmart stores have been closed, with cuts of several hundred positions. Grocery Delivery E-Services USA announced a closing of its Newnan facility, eliminating more than 700 jobs.

Growth has slowed.

Metro Atlanta payrolls have grown by 1.13% during the past 12 months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the year before that, jobs grew by 2.15%. And in the year ending in May of 2022, Atlanta jobs expanded by 6.19% amid the post-COVID-19 recovery.

The slower overall growth reflects the attitudes of many companies about the economy, said Chris Arnone, a partner at Moore Colson, a 200-person Atlanta-based accounting firm. “When I talk to clients, the business leaders are cautious. They look at expenses and head count and they want to make sure those are aligned with where they see their revenue going.”

Whether with artificial intelligence or other techniques, companies want to make sure they get the most of the employees they currently have before they hire more, he said.

Still, some skills are in strong demand, especially financial services and accounting jobs, Arnone said.

“There’s a shortage in certain areas,” he said. “Those are difficult seats to fill.”

A year ago, with the Federal Reserve jacking up interest rates to tame inflation, there was a widespread consensus among economists that a recession was virtually inevitable. Instead, the jobs machine kept churning, both nationally and in Georgia.

And metro Atlanta, with about 62% of the state’s jobs, has continued to account for most of the state’s expansion.

Some sectors are growing because they fell behind during the pandemic, said Mark Vitner, chief economist at Piedmont Crescent Capital.

Hospitals and other health care jobs — a big part of Atlanta’s economy — have been hiring, he said, “And a lot of lower-paying jobs in government that they had a hard time staffing are now getting filled.”

Changes in consumer habits have meant more spending on restaurants, concerts and travel, Vitner said. “The airports are all full, the restaurants are all full. Everywhere, the economy seems to be humming along.”

Still, that shift might shroud some weakness. For instance, that post-pandemic shift to services has meant that transportation and logistics have had to adjust to people spending less to order goods for home use. And Georgia’s vaunted film industry has seen cutbacks as productions get held up for a variety of reasons.

Based on the signs given by the Fed, interest rates are not likely to come down for months, which means continued headwinds. Consumer spending of late has been tepid. And while most economists now predict modest growth for the rest of this year, they were so wrong a year ago, that caution seems reasonable, said Arnone, the partner at Moore Colson.

His firm, like many of its clients, is hiring and growing, but carefully, reflecting an outlook that is upbeat, but not exhilarated, he said. “Not pessimistic, not gangbusters, something in-between.”

Metro Atlanta job market by the numbers

May, metro Atlanta unemployment rate

Highest, pre-pandemic: 10.1% (2010, 2011)

Lowest, pre-pandemic: 2.8% (1999)

Average, pre-pandemic: 5.4%

Recent: 3.4% (2024)

May, metro Atlanta job change

Best, pre-pandemic: 22,600 (1996)

Worst, pre-pandemic: -2,400 (2009)

Average, pre-pandemic: 12,770

Recent: 8,500 (2024)

May to May, metro Atlanta growth rate

2019: 2.42%

2020: -10.12%

2021: 9.47%

2022: 6.19%

2023: 2.15%

2024: 1.13%

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor