Georgia jobless rate slips below 3% for first-time ever

DeKalb principals and administrators interview potential teachers at a job fair held at DeKalb School District Headquarters on Thursday, July 21, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

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DeKalb principals and administrators interview potential teachers at a job fair held at DeKalb School District Headquarters on Thursday, July 21, 2022. (Natrice Miller/natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com

Hiring strong despite broader fears of inflation and economic slowdown.

The Georgia economy has defied the doomsayers for at least another month, posting strong job growth in June that pushed unemployment to yet another all-time low.

The state added 18,100 jobs last month — the largest expansion on record for a June — as the jobless rate slipped from 3.0% in May to 2.9%, even as the number of people in the labor force grew, according to a report Thursday from the Georgia Department of Labor.

“We are adding new job seekers and they are quickly finding employment,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner. “The unemployment rate is decreasing exactly the way it should in a strong economy.”

Georgia’s performance continues to outpace that of the nation, which has a slightly higher jobless rate of 3.6%, but has also been adding jobs.

Yet with inflation high and the Federal Reserve fighting it with hikes to its benchmark interest rate, talk about an impending recession is rampant among pundits, politicians and some economists.

With reason: Higher rates make borrowing more expensive, which tends to crimp consumer spending, investment and hiring. And most recessions since World War II were preceded by a rise in those short-term rates.

Yet a downturn doesn’t have to happen rapidly — or at all.

Not every Fed rate hike campaign has stifled growth and the current rates are still far below historic highs. Demand for goods and services has stayed strong — so strong that many companies complain of not having enough workers to meet customer demand.

The state’s job site has 227,000 jobs listed, with many going unfilled, Butler said.

“We are not seeing any weakening of demand,” said Paul Flick, chief executive of Premium Services Brands, which owns more than a dozen franchised companies in metro Atlanta offering painting, cleaning and various kinds of handywork. “People may not be going to Europe, but they are still spending on their homes.”

The companies employ more than 100 people and like many businesses has had trouble finding workers. The best way to fill slots has been to pay more, Flick said.

“Pre-pandemic, we were paying $15 to $20 an hour and now we’re $25 to $30,” he said.

While there has been a lot of talk about a labor shortage, it comes down to demand outpacing supply.

There is evidence that some people have been sidelined by “Long Covid” or by the need to care for children or elder relatives. An uncertain number of working-age Georgians died from the virus. Some people retired early or returned to school and some just dropped out of the workforce.

But the state’s labor force — which includes everyone either working or looking for work — has been growing. It increased last month to an all-time high, about 101,000 more workers than before the pandemic, according to the Department of Labor.

But the state now has about 135,400 more jobs than it did in February 2020.

With schools out of session, many executives at the beach and some factories closed, June is not typically a strong month for hiring. In the two decades prior to the pandemic, Georgia averaged just 3,200 new jobs during the month.

But last month, the state added more than that just in the health care and social assistance sector, the Department of Labor said. Among employers who still have more than 1,000 job postings were included Wellstar Health System.

But there are also thousands of job postings in manufacturing, retail, hospitality, tech and finance.

The hits also keep coming. This week, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced Denkai America, a copper foil maker for electronics, plans a new factory in the Augusta area focused on components for electric vehicle batteries. The state said Denkai’s $430 million factory, which will also include its North American headquarters, will create 250 jobs over the next five years.

That kind of demand gives workers more leverage than they’ve had in a long time, which has fueled union organizing and higher quit rates, as well as higher wages.

Companies that want to snag good workers — and retain them — use a range of enticements, said Matt Laurinas, chief customer officer for Bluecrew, a technology-based staffing company, that currently has about 900 workers at metro Atlanta companies.

In the sectors Bluecrew serves — primarily warehousing and hospitality — the pay range has climbed from $12 to $15 an hour to $16 to $20 an hour, he said. “We have an Atlanta-area workplace that does a barbecue every two weeks. Small things can go a long way.”

No one doubts that, with enough rate hikes, the Fed can eventually tip the economy into a ditch. Some of the large, West Coast-based tech companies say they’ve overextended and are talking about job cuts.

But even among companies that are growing, there are some signs on the horizon that companies are concerned about how long the current expansion will continue.

“We are starting to hear that customers are becoming more cautious, not hiring as many people, or just shortening the cycle by not hiring as often,” Laurinas said.


Georgia economy

Jobs

Added in June: 18,100

Average June, pre-pandemic: 3,200

Changes since start of pandemic

Labor force: 101,443 more Georgians working or seeking work

Jobs: 135,400 more total jobs in Georgia since before the pandemic

Unemployment: 32,127 fewer Georgians considered unemployed

Unemployment rate

Lowest pre-pandemic: 3.4% (Nov. 2019, Dec. 2000)

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

Recent: 2.9% (June 2022)

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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