Yet another drop in unemployment; Atlanta job growth still strong

Atlanta: Steady rise in job creation plus employers’ demand to fill openings

Metro Atlanta hit a record low unemployment rate last month as the region’s job machine churned forward through the headwinds of inflation and higher interest rates.

An aggressive campaign by the Federal Reserve to slow the economy hasn’t yet held back the region’s employers, who added 6,600 jobs in September, a month in which hiring in pre-pandemic years was typically negative.

The metro Atlanta workforce grew by more than 12,000 people, but most were snapped up by employers as the jobless rate slid to 2.5% from 3.0% in August, said Mark Butler, the state’s Labor Commissioner. “We continue to see a steady rise in job creation and demand by employers to fill open positions.”

The state’s job site lists 86,000 jobs open in metro Atlanta, he said.

With the nation’s central bank moving to dampen spending, talk of recession — or at least a slowdown — is common among experts. Yet the nation’s economy grew at a surprisingly strong 2.6% pace in the past quarter, the government reported Thursday.

And since employers have been struggling to find the workers they need, they will not quickly reverse course, said Fritz Valsaint, co-owner of Spherion staffing in South Fulton. “It is still an employees’ market. We don’t see companies letting those people go. They may reduce the number of hirings they had planned, but they want to hold on to the people they have.”

In the two decades before the pandemic, metro Atlanta averaged a loss of 3,100 jobs in September.

But the region has been attracting investment, along with a steady influx of young professionals. Job growth has been consistently healthier here than nationally. The area has also provided the bulk of Georgia’s growth — more than 70% of the jobs added in the past 12 months.

The number of people in metro Atlanta who are officially unemployed — jobless but actively looking for a position — is lower than it has been since early 2001, a time when the area’s economy was about 25% smaller than it is now.

That has left many employers competing to lure employees.

Norcross-based Vantiva, which supplies equipment and software for broadband and wi-fi systems, as well as other connective devices like alarms, has been hiring engineers, said Luis Martinez-Amago, chief executive. “It is sometimes difficult but mostly because in Atlanta there are a significant number of tech companies.”

He knows there are threats to growth, but he must respond to current conditions, he said. “At the moment, there’s strong demand and we have significant business. I feel today it is a very strong market. About next year, I have more question marks.”

Carbice recently opened a lab in Midtown Atlanta to work on the company’s innovations in thermal technology. The Atlanta-based company is hiring engineers and manufacturing technicians, as well as marketing and communications employees, according to a statement from Baratunde Cola, the company CEO.

Carbice plans to hire up to 40 engineers and 40 technicians over the next several years, but those specialties can be hard to find, he said.

The shortfall in workers has a number of causes. Boomers have been retiring faster than young workers are entering the workforce. And the residue of the pandemic — death, lingering illness and the need to care for family members — has kept some workers on the sideline.

After nine months of rising interest rates, the number of job openings has dipped and the share of workers quitting has declined, but both remain higher than pre-pandemic levels. And it is not just professionals that are in short supply.

Competition for workers has meant higher wages for many, especially for those at the lower end of the income scale, at least partly because of the pandemic, said economist Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. “We continue to have a strong labor market, but people have been leaving face-to-face services, many of them low-paid jobs.”

The need for workers has led to more hiring of groups that had been previously marginalized, like the disabled, as well as minority workers.

It has also meant higher pay and raises that have at least partially blunted the impact of rising prices.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, lower-wage workers have been averaging annual raises of more than 7%, compared to 5% for higher-paid employees.

Pre-pandemic, warehouse packers were making $11 to $12.50 an hour, said Ebony Walker, the other co-owner of the South Fulton Spherion. “They are getting $17 to $20 an hour now. Those wages have increased because it is so very competitive.”

Most sectors grew during the month, according to the Labor Department, including warehousing and retail, with many employers gearing up for the holiday season. Government, which shed jobs during the pandemic, also has many openings. Gwinnett County, for example, is hiring police, paramedics and animal control officers.

But the Fed is not finished with raising rates and there are signs that the hikes are starting to bite, said Mike Dawkins, president for the Atlanta market at BNY Mellon Wealth Management.

“Generally, what we’ve seen is that Atlanta continues to be stronger than the overall U.S. market,” he said. “But we think we are starting to see some sectors that are being impacted, like construction and financial services.”


Unemployment rate, metro Atlanta

Highest pre-pandemic: 11.1% (June 2009)

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

Highest, pandemic: 12.3% (April 2000)

Recent: 2.5% (Sept. 2022)

September job change, metro Atlanta

Best, pre-pandemic: 15,900 (1994)

Worst, pre-pandemic: -15,200 (2008)

Average, pre-pandemic: -3,100 (2000-2019)

Recent: 6,600 (2022)

Trajectory, metro Atlanta jobs

September: 6,600

Year to date: 79,500

Past 12 months: 162,300

Sectors strong and weak, past 12 months

Trade, transportation: up 23,600

Leisure and hospitality: up 23,600

Education and health services: up 22,100

Construction: down 1,900

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor

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