UGA forecasters: Georgia economy to top pre-pandemic jobs by mid-2022

Benjamin Ayers, dean of the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, speaking Monday, Dec. 13, 2021 at Atlanta's aquarium. Ayers, delivering the annual outlook from Terry's Selig Center, said the Georgia economy should see solid and steady growth next year.

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Benjamin Ayers, dean of the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia, speaking Monday, Dec. 13, 2021 at Atlanta's aquarium. Ayers, delivering the annual outlook from Terry's Selig Center, said the Georgia economy should see solid and steady growth next year.

State’s economy seen growing 4.3% next year, but inflation a problem

Georgia’s economy will post strong growth again in 2022, finally surpassing its pre-pandemic number of jobs in the first half of next year, according to the latest economic outlook by the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

Since the economy’s calamitous plunge in the spring of 2020, the state has been clawing its way back in fits and starts. And while the tempo may be slower in 2022 than it has been this year, the growth should be steadier, Benjamin C. Ayers, the business school dean, said Monday.

“It’s going to be good news,” he told more than 450 attendees at the Georgia Aquarium for the school’s annual economic forecast. “The pace next year will be slower than this year, but less erratic.”

While the coronavirus remains a wild card, and inflation is troubling, the outlook otherwise is good, Ayers said. “The pandemic is not yet over. But our expectation is that each succeeding wave will cause less damage.”

The forecast, compiled by the Selig Center at Terry, calls for the state to add about 143,900 jobs in the coming year. That would be enough to surpass the number of Georgians employed before the pandemic.

Georgia’s economy also will outdo the nation’s pace of recovery in the coming year, Ayers said. “We have less economic debris to pick up.”

UGA forecasters predict Georgia’s economy will expand 4.3% in 2022, nearly twice as fast as its pre-pandemic pace. They expect the U.S. economy to expand 4.0%.

Georgia’s economy this year has grown an estimated 5.8%, but still has not made up the ground lost in 2020.

While the state’s leisure, hospitality and travel-related jobs took a pandemic pounding, Georgia’s tech and white-collar jobs grew. Moreover, there was robust hiring in logistics and warehousing after consumer spending on many goods surged during the pandemic as many people stayed home.

Assuming a resurgent virus does not crimp consumer spending, hiring on hospitality and personal services should jump in the next year. Public health officials are closely monitoring the latest COVID-19 variant, omicron, which is sending cases higher again in parts of the U.S.

Georgia’s unemployment rate remains near the historically low 3.1% it reached in October, but that doesn’t include the many potential workers not seeking jobs. Many employers have said they don’t have enough applicants to fill openings.

The state’s labor force — people either working or looking for a job — is still smaller than it was in February 2020. While retirements account for much of that, many working-age women are on the sidelines, Mark Vitner, senior economist for Wells Fargo, told attendees at Monday’s event. “It is still very hard to find child care.”

Vitner said that inflation remains a concern. While snarls in supply chains will be much less of an issue, other costs have become embedded in the economy, he said.

Vitner said that rising prices have spurred investors to buy homes, especially in Atlanta, pushing prices up and hurting first-time buyers. “Inflation is going to create more long-term problems for the economy than anyone is predicting right now.”

In metro Atlanta, both housing prices and rents are rising at double-digit rates.

Housing accounts for the largest component in the inflation calculation, and Atlanta had the biggest annual rise in consumer prices in a government survey of more than a dozen large metro areas in October. “It is simply not sustainable. Incomes are not going up that much,” Vitner said.


GEORGIA’S ECONOMY

Change in gross domestic product

2017: 3.7%

2018: 3.7%

2019: 1.6%

2020: -2.5%

2021: 5.8%

2022*: 4.3%

Change in number of jobs

2017: 1.9%

2018: 1.9%

2019: 1.9%

2020: -4.6%

2021: 2.8%

2022*: 3.2%

Average unemployment rate

2017: 4.8%

2018: 4.0%

2019: 3.5%

2020: 6.5%

2021: 3.7%

2022*: 3.2%

Change in number of permits for single-family homes

2017: 0.5%

2018: 4.8%

2019: 1.5%

2020: 7.1%

2021: 39.2%

2022*: 7.8%

*Forecast

Source: Selig Center for Growth, Terry College of Business, University of Georgia

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