Georgia job growth full throttle in March, led by hospitality

State still cruising at historically low 3.1 percent jobless rate
Restaurants are still scrambling to get the workers they need. (Bloomberg photo by Hannah Beier)

Credit: Bloomberg

Combined ShapeCaption
Restaurants are still scrambling to get the workers they need. (Bloomberg photo by Hannah Beier)

Credit: Bloomberg

Housekeepers, servers, cooks, dishwashers — demand to fill those jobs has been steady.

Hospitality jobs that evaporated by the tens of thousands early in the pandemic have been coming back, said Erin Karin, regional vice president of LGC Associates, a staffing company that specializes in the sector.

“It’s crazy how fast things have changed,” she said. “And how dramatically things have changed.”

The March jobless rate in Georgia remained at a historically low 3.1% as the workforce continued to grow and the economy added jobs, the state Department of Labor said Thursday,

Hospitality still has fewer workers than in early 2020. The fastest hiring last month came in accommodation and food services, which added 4,300 positions.

Hiring has been constant, Karin said. “Hardest to find has been the lowest-pay workers like dishwashers and housekeepers.” Those jobs pay $13-$14 an hour at the low end, she said.

A 17-month-long campaign by the Federal Reserve to cut inflation by slowing the economy has not yet triggered a recession, but it has raised interest rates dramatically. And there have been at least some signs of an economic undertow.

New claims for unemployment benefits in Georgia have been modestly higher this year than last, according to the Employment and Training Administration.

Layoffs have been announced at a number of high-profile tech companies, including Meta, Amazon, Twitter, Microsoft and Greenlight Financial, most with a significant presence in the state. Other companies have also filed notice of cuts with the state, including David’s Bridal, which plans to trim 193 jobs, Solo Cup Operations Corp., which is eliminating 84, and Packers Sanitation, which is cutting 135.

Job postings in the state have declined nearly 20% since December, according to an analysis by Indeed, the job listing site.

Yet listings are still far higher than they were pre-pandemic.

More than 125,000 jobs were listed online in March with the Department of Labor, including 27,400 healthcare jobs and 13,500 in hospitality. Even the supposedly beleaguered information technology sector had 8,900 listings.

“There are misperceptions about the tech layoffs,” said Rob MacLane, president of Alpharetta-based 3Ci, which places tech workers. “When Amazon lays off people, it is not necessarily tech professionals. It can be finance, marketing, human resources people.”

Hiring may have slowed slightly, but many positions remain unfilled, especially in cybersecurity, software development and engineering, he said. “If you have those skills, you may be unemployed, but you won’t be unemployed for long.”

Right now, nearly all hiring managers say that it’s hard to find skilled talent, positions that take an average of 11 weeks to fill, said Amy Mangan, marketing director for staffing company Robert Half in Atlanta.

If those skilled people start having trouble finding work, that will be a sign that the economy has hit a rough patch, she said. “That’s our canary.”

One contractor placed by Robert Half is Joseph Lytle, 29, who has been working for about a year in Atlanta for a large construction materials company as an information security systems analyst,

The work pays decently, he said, and requires just two days a week in an office, with flexible hours, he said.

Lytle, who does not have a college degree, is on a contract and he’s pretty confident his experience will help him find the next gig once this one ends. He said he’s likely to go through a staffing company again, because many direct-hire employers use an online screen to block applicants who don’t have degrees.

Lytle came out of the U.S. Marine Corps trained in cybersecurity, he said. “A college degree checks a box, but the things you learn in freshman year are going to be obsolete by the time you graduate. That’s how fast the I.T. world moves.”

A sign of hiring’s continued health is that Georgia’s jobless rate didn’t move despite the expansion of the labor force — which includes everyone either with a job or actively looking.

The share of Georgians working is higher than any other state in the Southeast, according to the Department of Labor.

Some of that is the return of workers who had left to care for children, parents or themselves or to study full time. But some is because Georgia has continued to draw transplants from many states, according to the Census Bureau.

While the flow of people in and out of Georgia goes both ways, fewer than 10 states are luring more workers from Georgia than Georgia is bringing in.

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