Yet much of the economy is strong: Georgia in the past 12 months has added 93,400 jobs
“It may be that most of the jobs being added are in sectors that are not interest rate-sensitive,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at online job site Indeed.
But those rates are still high. And perhaps the sector that has been hardest hit by higher rates has been housing, where buyers — especially first-timers — have seen their purchasing power cut by higher monthly payments. That has dampened sales, which in turn has meant hundreds of millions of dollars less this year in commission income for brokers, according John Ryan, chief marketing officer of the Georgia Multiple Listing Services.
A sag in housing also means less work for accountants, lawyers, office workers and repair contractors.
Moreover, while electric vehicle sales are growing, the demand for them is not as strong as many automakers anticipated and supply has outstripped demand. This is partly to do with high interest rates making auto loans more costly.
SK Battery in Jackson County, which provides batteries to electric vehicles made by Ford and Volkswagen, recently acknowledged it was temporarily furloughing many of its workers.
Yet some employers are struggling to find the people they need.
The unemployment rate, which is calculated from a separate survey, remained steady at 3.4%, which is still historically low. During the month, the state added 4,300 health care jobs, 1,600 management positions and 1,200 jobs in hospitality, the sector that has been strongest over the past year.
Even with the recent pick-up in travel and bookings, many of the state’s hotels cannot rent out all their rooms, said Dylan Patel, a director of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, whose members represent 68% of the state’s hotels.
“I still think there’s a huge shortage of workers,” he said. “In many places, we don’t have enough housekeeping workers. We just don’t have enough people to clean those rooms.”
Despite October’s shortfall in a few sectors, the labor market is still generally tilted to the advantage of jobseekers. The state jobs site has about 83,000 listings, with health care the most common opening, according to the DOL.
“There’s a lot of demand still in the market,” said Nasser Nammari, co-owner of Spherion Staffing in Dunwoody, which places workers in clerical, light industrial and non-clinical health care jobs. “Companies are looking for candidates and candidates are looking for higher salaries.”
Demand is especially acute for blue-collar skills that require a certification or special license, Nammari said. “If you are a good fork-lift driver, you already have a job.”
To fill those positions, employers are competing for scarce workers.
Machine operators are especially hard to find, said Peggy Anderson, chief of staff for Rekord Structures in Washington, about 110 miles east of Atlanta. Rekord is a four-year-old company that makes components for various kinds of shelters, including housing used by the U.S. Military.
The company has 60 employees in Washington and a 20-worker “travel team” that installs the structures. It plans to hire up to 25 people over the next three months, offering higher wages, health benefits and a 401(k) plan, she said.
“We are in expansion mode,” Anderson said.
A year ago, with inflation raging, economists were widely predicting a recession.
Since then, inflation has dropped nearly to pre-pandemic levels while the economy — both nationally and in Georgia — has stubbornly kept growing. Still, the October downturn does reflect a caution among both consumers and companies.
While a broad downturn isn’t yet in the data, there are sure signs that growth has moderated.
Wage growth — which peaked above 9% — has steadily fallen, a sign that competition for workers has eased. That makes it less likely that leaving a job will mean much better pay in the next one, which explains the falling share of employees who have been quitting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Those changes are visible in a hiring search, said Bill Coontz, chief executive officer of the Dalton Agency, which offers a variety of advertising, marketing and public relation services to clients in a variety of industries.
“Hiring about 12 to 18 months ago was extremely challenging,” he said. “I’d hate to say it’s easy now, but it is less challenging.”
Officials at the Federal Reserve have said their rate hikes are not intended to spur an economic crash, just a “soft landing,” in which inflation is tamed and the economy can start growing healthily again.
And at least some clients are acting like they have passed the inflation and interest rate scares, Coontz said. “Clients are more willing and budgets are loosening up a little bit. ‘We need to get back out into the marketplace and create sales.’ I think that’s a sign of confidence.”
Georgia job picture, October
Pre-pandemic average for month: +4,500
Best, pre-pandemic: 25,100 (2004)
Worst, pre-pandemic: -23,200 (2008)
Job change, recent: -1,100 (2023)
Lowest, pre-pandemic unemployment rate: 3.4% (2000, 2019)
Highest, pre-pandemic unemployment rate: 10.9% (2009)
Unemployment rate, recent: 3.4% (2023)
Average unemployment rate, pre-pandemic: 5.9%
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor