Georgia job growth strong as unemployment remains at record low

Worker for Athens-based Filta Environmental Kitchen Solutions, which filters and deep-cleans fryers in commercial kitchens,

Combined ShapeCaption
Worker for Athens-based Filta Environmental Kitchen Solutions, which filters and deep-cleans fryers in commercial kitchens,

Inflation fears, stock market slump hasn’t slowed state’s jobs engine yet.

The stock market has plunged, interest rates have climbed, inflation may be biting, and talk of recession is in the air, but business has been pretty good at Filta Environmental Kitchen Solutions.

Like many Georgia employers, the Athens-based company has been less worried about finding customers and more worried about obtaining workers to get the job done, said Scott Clark, owner of the firm that filters and deep-cleans fryers in commercial kitchens.

He has two workers, each working from a $75,000 van outfitted with cleaning equipment. He is poised to hire a third employee, he said.

“He’s a really good guy, and I don’t want to let him slip away,” Clark said. “I don’t ever hire when I need someone, I hire when I find the right person.”

Since the start of the year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has shed about 15% of its value, but the rebound of the Georgia economy has continued, according to a report Thursday from the state Department of Labor.

Georgia added 19,000 jobs last month, more than three times the pre-pandemic average for April growth. That kept the unemployment rate at its all-time low of 3.1%, unchanged from March and still lower than the national rate, said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner.

That jobless rate held steady even though the labor force grew 16,337 during the month. The number of Georgians out of work and searching for a job is now at its lowest level since June 2001, a reflection of the pace of hiring.

The state’s job board has listings for more than 315,000 unfilled positions, Butler said.

But filling a position is not as easy as posting it, said Julie Anderson, vice president of the Marietta-based Wrench Group, which owns several area service companies, including Coolray Heating and Air and Mr. Plumber.

“We have hired 150 people this year in metro Atlanta,” she said. “But it is incredibly difficult to find these people because most of them are already working.”

‘Competition for talent’

The Georgia data contradicts the prevailing gloom on Wall Street, where stocks have sunk beneath a wave of fears about high gas prices, rising interest rates and inflation. Adding to that gloom was a report Thursday that jobless claims nationally climbed nearly 11%.

In contrast, Georgia’s initial claims last week fell to fewer than 4,000, which is below typical pre-pandemic levels.

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Signs advertise openings at a Crunch Fitness gym in Dunwoody on Thursday, April 21, 2022. J. SCOTT TRUBEY

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Signs advertise openings at a Crunch Fitness gym in Dunwoody on Thursday, April 21, 2022. J. SCOTT TRUBEY

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Combined ShapeCaption
Signs advertise openings at a Crunch Fitness gym in Dunwoody on Thursday, April 21, 2022. J. SCOTT TRUBEY

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Credit: J. Scott Trubey

Thursday’s report from the state DOL confirms what lenders are seeing, Katie Saez, regional president at Truist Bank, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Companies might be coping with higher costs, but they see strong demand and they want to meet it.

“There still continues to be a lot of strategic investment to grow businesses, to venture into new territory,” she said. “What I am hearing about is the labor shortage, the high level of competition for talent.”

That competition is especially acute in home services, where the pandemic fueled a spike in demand, said Dave Rychley, president 360 Painting, a metro-wide service for homes and small businesses with 75 employees.

Much of his hiring is done by word of mouth, with offers of higher pay or more flexibility since he generally has to lure someone away from another job, he said.

“There just aren’t a lot of out-of-work painters, not good ones,” Rychley said.

Other in-person services that suffered during the pandemic are now scrambling for workers as consumers return.

“It was a pretty rough couple of years for the business,” said Duane LeVine, a principal in Level 5 Capital Partners, which invests in wellness and fitness ventures, and is the majority investor in Big Blue Swim School in Johns Creek.

The school has fewer than 20 employees, and if the right candidates appeared, LeVine said, he would hire up to seven more.

Big Blue has made many of the jobs part-time, aiming to give workers the flexibility they need to stay with the company longer, he said.

“When you are talking about swim lessons for your child, what you want is consistency,” he said. “It’s not a passive job, you have to be passionate. These are kids’ lives and it’s an essential skill that you are teaching.”

But pay is always central to hiring.

To attract and retain workers, wages in many fields last month were rising at an annual rate of 6%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. And for workers switching jobs, the pay hike averaged 7.2%.

While those are historically large bumps for wage growth, inflation is also taking a bite, so growth in real terms isn’t quite as robust.

“The jobs that stay open are the typically the most unattractive or those that don’t pay as much,” said Jill Eubank, vice president of Randstad, a global staffing company.

A successful company has to adapt to the willingness of workers to switch jobs, she said.

“It used to be, we would ask employers, ‘What do you typically pay?’” she said. “But now they are constantly asking us, ‘What should I be paying to find the employees I’m looking for?’”

The strongest wage growth has been in transportation and warehousing, where many jobs pay 25% more than they did pre-pandemic, she said.

And that sector — which includes grocery, home improvement and retail stores, as well as warehousing and logistics — has made up much of the hiring during the economic rebound of the past two years, said state Labor Commissioner Butler.

That sector now accounts for more than 1 million jobs in Georgia, a sign that consumers who account for more than two-thirds of the economy are still in solid financial shape, he said.


Georgia unemployment rate:

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

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

Highest, pandemic: 12.5% (April, 2020)

Current: 3.1% (April, 2022)

Georgia jobs, pre-pandemic:

Best April: +36,800 (2005)

Worst April: -24,900 (2001)

Average April: 5,200

This April: +19,000

Sectors with the most hiring in April:

Wholesale trade

Administrative and support services

Accommodation and food services

Transportation and warehousing

Retail trade

Industries with more than 10,000 jobs open now:

Health Care

Manufacturing

Accommodation and food services

Retail Trade

Professional, scientific and technical services

Finance and insurance

Transportation and warehousing

Annualized pace of wage growth:

April, 2022: 6.0%

April, 2021: 3.2%

April, 2020: 3.3%

April, 2019: 3.6%

April, 2018: 3.3%

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta