Georgia economy taps the brakes, but still rolling forward

Pace of hiring slowed a bit in July, but unemployment rate remains unchanged at 3.2%

Credit: Michael Blackshire

Credit: Michael Blackshire

The pace of hiring eased in July, but Georgia’s economy continued to grow with job openings abundant, unemployment low and the share of the population drawing paychecks increasing.

The state added about 2,600 jobs in July. That’s the weakest growth since October, a sign that rising interest rates are a headwind. But layoffs were few and expansion was strong in services, health care and hospitality, the state Department of Labor said Thursday.

The unemployment rate held steady at a historically low 3.2%, with more people working, but also more looking for work.

“We are thrilled to have an unemployment rate lower than the national average and a record number of workers to fill essential roles,” Bruce Thompson, the state’s labor commissioner, said in a statement. “We are maintaining a watchful eye on unemployment trends.”

When joblessness is high, as it was in the Great Recession and its aftermath, employers can be selective, dictating pay and work arrangements. But during a post-pandemic rebound that has been fueled by some hefty federal spending, many employers found the situation reversed.

Hourly workers a year ago were getting an average pay boost of 7.1%, according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, which tracks wages. However, the “labor shortage” has abated somewhat, so that pay hikes for hourly workers in July averaged 5.5%, the Fed said.

But there are still many job openings — blue collar and white — that employers have trouble filling.

“It is very, very difficult to find the right people,” said Ryan Burton, chief executive of Lawrenceville-based Leads Near Me, Inc., which helps auto shops with their online marketing. “We put a job ad out there and we get hundreds of candidates, but it’s real thin.”

The company, which has 370 clients around the country, has 23 employees.

One of the few sectors in Georgia that has seen layoffs has been tech, where high-profile companies like Meta, Twitter, Microsoft and Google have made cuts, along with smaller firms like Atlanta-based SecureWorks. Yet those skills are still in demand, so many of those laid off are snapped up.

Burton has hired web developers, software developers and graphic designers without arduous searches. But he also needs to fill some high-paying positions that require both software savvy and shrewdness in sales.

“To find someone who is a seller, who is also skilled, that is a bit tricky,” Burton said.

Fueling the economy is a resilient consumer. Higher prices have taken a bite out of many paychecks, but inflation is receding, most people are working and many are getting raises. During an earnings announcement earlier this week, executives at Vinings-based Home Depot said consumers were cautious, but still spending.

That means customers, but also a need for workers to serve them, said Eric Degen, co-owner of the Scoop Soldiers franchise based in Alpharetta.

The company cleans pet waste from the yards of about 80 clients around the area, including elderly dog owners and single mothers, as well as businesses like dog groomers and doggy daycare.

Some only want the yard clean-up one a week or less and some want it more regularly. One client has four golden retrievers and gets Scoop Soldiers to visit every day, Degen said.

Employees are paid between $13 and $18 an hour, plus tips and performance bonuses and the use of a company truck, he said. “It’s been kind of challenging to hire in the Atlanta market. It’s not rocket science, by any means. But they are an extension of us and the brand and you have to have a very high level of trust.”

Office workers are another clue to the economy’s slow moderation.

When unemployment is low, the balance of power in the economy tends to shift toward workers who have been looking for higher pay and more flexibility, said Ebony Walker, co-owner of Spherion staffing’s franchise on the south side of Atlanta.

That is why so many businesses agreed to let employees work from home.

But lately, employers have felt a little less pressure to accommodate workers, Walker said. “There’s a battle right now, especially among females, often asking for remote or hybrid work arrangements. But more and more, our job candidates see that if you want a decent position that pays well, you have to go into the office.”

The modest tilt toward workers stoked labor organizing, sparking union drives at unexpected places like Starbucks and aiding Teamsters in hammering out a new contract with UPS. Last week, United Steelworkers members voted to ratify their first contract at Kumho Tire in Macon, a deal covering about 325 workers.

If the Fed keeps raising rates, it likely will slow the economy still more, but many economists say the recession they were predicting a year ago now seems less likely.

Even the sudden shutdown of Yellow trucking may not add too many people to the ranks of the jobless, said Hannah Workman, a data specialist at Circuit, which makes software for dispatchers and tuckers.

Deliveries are still on the rise, she said. “Given that (most) business owners feel that they do not have a surplus of drivers for their current workload, the demand is still there.”

Georgia jobs

Pace of growth over previous 12 months

July 2021: 6.7%

July 2022: 4.3%

July 2023: 1.8%

Number of jobs added, 2023

July: 2,600

June: 4,400

May: 11,500

April: 10,000

March: 6,100

February: 5,200

January: 15,200

Unemployment rate

Highest, pre-pandemic: 10.9% (Nov. 2009)

Lowest, pre-pandemic: 3.4% (Dec. 2000)

Recent: 3.2% (July, 2023)

*Numbers adjusted to account for seasonal patterns

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor

Credit: cus

Credit: cus

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More details

Pace of growth over previous 12 months

July 2021: 6.7%

July 2022: 4.3%

July 2023: 1.8%

Number of jobs added, last three months

July: 2,600

June: 4,400

May: 11,500

More jobs numbers, A6