Georgia’s year of strong job growth ends with big December gain

Georgia ended the year with big job gains, although December's growth. The new year holds many uncertainties, from inflation to omicron, but experts are optimistic. (Gabby Jones/The New York Times)

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Georgia ended the year with big job gains, although December's growth. The new year holds many uncertainties, from inflation to omicron, but experts are optimistic. (Gabby Jones/The New York Times)

Unemployment rate drops to new record low

The Georgia economy finished 2021 with a flurry of hiring as the unemployment rate dipped again, slipping to a new all-time low, the state Department of Labor said Thursday.

The state added 24,200 jobs last month, far stronger than a typical, pre-pandemic December, while the official jobless rate edged down to 2.6% from 2.8% in November, the previous record low.

That jobless rate does not include people who are not actively seeking a job. But for those who are looking, the odds are exceptionally good, said Mark Butler, the state’s commissioner of labor. “Now is one of the best times we have seen for finding employment.”

Butler pegged the state’s economic performance as a tradeoff with health measures that restricted growth in other states. Georgia’s jobless rate, for example, is far lower than that of Nevada, which has an indoor mask mandate, or in New York, which also has more restrictive measures, he said. The national jobless rate is 3.9%.

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The unemployment rate is not the only measure of success. The pace of jobs added during the past year in Georgia — a 4.4% expansion — was faster than some more restrictive states like New York, where the number of jobs grew by 3.4%. But Nevada jobs grew at a 7.4% pace, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

In the past year, Georgia has added nearly 200,000 jobs and is now just 16,500 shy of its level in February 2020, before several months of massive job losses during COVID-triggered shutdowns.

After nearly two years of the pandemic, concern continues to overlay the economy, said Glenn Williams, chief executive of Primerica, a Duluth-based, multi-billion dollar financial services provider.

While most consumers are optimistic, a recent Primerica survey showed 82% of national respondents expected the virus to continue mutating and spreading, he said. “It is dominating our lives and there is not a clear resolution.”

The virus nudged some people to retire early and has convinced others not to work. Many companies have complained of being unable to find the people they need. Georgia’s labor force — people either working or looking for work — is 23,542 smaller than it was before the pandemic, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That leaves fewer workers responding to job openings.

The pandemic also has changed the nature of some jobs, making remote work much more common. At the same time, persistent fear about the virus has been a challenge to industries that depend on in-person transactions, such as hospitality.

Yet most sectors have kept expanding.

“The variants, including omicron, appear to have a very limited effect on the hiring demands of most businesses out there,” said Bert Bean, chief executive of Insight Global, an Atlanta-based staffing company with 63 offices around the country. “Demand has never been hotter.”

Georgia’s job picture, December

Jobs: up 24,200

Labor force: up 3,701

Unemployment* rate: down by 0.2 percentage points

Number of unemployed*: down 10,325

Historical context, Georgia economy

Unemployment rate, recent: 2.6% (Dec. 2021)

Unemployment rate, highest during pandemic: 12.5% (April 2020)

Unemployment rate, pre-pandemic: 3.5% (Feb. 2020)

Unemployment rate, lowest pre-pandemic: 3.4% (Nov. 2000)

Job growth, recent: 24,200 (Dec. 2021)

Average December job growth, pre-pandemic: 3,430

*Unemployment calculations count only those actively seeking work

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Georgia Department of Labor