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Despite mid-summer lull, metro Atlanta unemployment dips

By Michael Kanell

With schools closed and many residents on vacation, the metro Atlanta economy typically taps the brakes in mid-summer, but the overall pace of hiring has been steady and the signals seem to be green going into the fall.

The jobless rate dipped to 3.8 percent, the lowest in Atlanta since the summer of 2001, and that improvement came while the workforce was growing by nearly 10,000, according to a report from the state Department of Labor.

The region has added 57,000 jobs during the past year, with no sign yet of any damage from the current trade tussles that the nation is having with its trading partners.

“Georgia’s continues to be in a period of sustained growth,” said Mark Butler, the state’s labor commissioner. “There are no indicators in July that Georgia’s growth is going to slow down anytime soon.”

But not all sectors accelerate in mid-summer.

The Atlanta economy had lost jobs in 19 of the previous 20 Julys and this one followed the rule. With less need for bus drivers, teachers and secretaries, the government lost more than 11,000 jobs during the month. And with many residents elsewhere, restaurants needed fewer workers, so there were 2,200 fewer jobs in hospitality, a crucial sector.

But August is typically a very strong month for hiring and when there’s a demand for more workers, staffing companies often see it first.

The post-summer pick-up is happening earlier than usual, said Larry Feinstein chief executive of Atlanta-based Hire Dynamics, which places 6,000 people a week into jobs in the area. “Our busy season used to start in September and October, but it’s starting now. We are already seeing a tightening in the market.”

Even more encouraging for blue collar workers whose pay lagged coming out of the recession, the low jobless rate is finally starting to mean higher wages, he said.

“I am seeing a lot of people raising pay rates, because if you have low pay, you are not going to get the people you want and if you get them, you are not going to keep them,” Feinstein said. “You want retention, you have to get to $12 an hour. If you want to have good quality, you have to get to $14 to $17 an hour.”

The state’s overall expansion has been solid and metro Atlanta continues to supply the lion’s share of the job growth. And while both the region and the state rely on global trade and investment concerns that the tariff battle will mean a slowdown in shipments have not yet been born out.

Many of Atlanta’s biggest companies depend on sales overseas or materials that must be imported, but the impact thus far has been muted.

In fact, the ever-lower unemployment rate has spurred some efforts to bring workers back into the labor force.

At the same time, the region has about 120,000 people who are out of working and looking for a job, according to the Labor Department. More than a quarter of those people have been searching for work for more than six months, a sign of either a mismatch in skills or a bias against the long-term unemployed.

This article originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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