Friday, February 7, 2020

Georgia 2019 job growth would have been a disaster without Atlanta

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released detailed numbers on job growth in Georgia over the past calendar year, not only for statewide Georgia, but for all the metro areas in the state.

By subtracting out the Atlanta area’s job information from the statewide information, it is possible measure how job growth in the non-Atlanta portion of the state, which I have termed RGA (Rest of Georgia), compares to the Atlanta area in calendar year 2019, and the results are not pretty.

In 2019, Georgia added 69,400 jobs for a growth rate of 1.5%, before seasonal adjustments. The calendar year growth rate was the lowest for the state since 2011, when the state posted a 1.1% rate.

The Atlanta metro area, which consist of 29 of the state’s 159 counties, recorded job growth of 66,700 over the calendar year for a growth rate of 2.4%. In contrast to the state, this year’s growth rate exceeded the rates recorded for the Atlanta area in 2017 and 2018.

By subtracting Atlanta’s numbers from the statewide totals, job growth in RGA (Rest of Georgia) was a mere 2,700 or 0.2% for calendar year 2019.

As a comparison, for the nation, job growth was 1.4% in calendar 2019.

The lack of job growth at a time when the nation is doing well economically is particularly worrisome because it represents a trend whereas the Atlanta metro area is increasingly the state’s primary job growth engine.

In 2019, RGA accounted for 38% of the total nonfarm jobs residing in Georgia. Ten years ago, RGA was home to 41% of the state’s nonfarm jobs. Since 2009, the Atlanta area has increased its job count by 623,300, as the RGA added 190,300.

Jobs by Industry

Looking at the jobs data by industry for 2019, jobs in the professional and business services sector grew by 13,000 in the Atlanta metro area while falling by 16,200 in RGA. The Atlanta area added 3,700 jobs in the information sector, while RGA lost 3,200.

Only in the financial activities sector did the number of jobs added in RGA exceed the number added in the Atlanta area. In that one industry RGA added 600 jobs, while the Atlanta area added 400.

Another way of looking at jobs is to compare the industry concentration by employment for the state, the Atlanta metro area, and the Rest of Georgia.

For example, about 15% of statewide employment is in government, which is the same as nationwide. Even though Atlanta is the state capital, only 12% of jobs in the metro area are in government, while in the rest of the state, this increases to 20% of total nonfarm jobs.

More specifically, about 4% of jobs statewide are in state government, with state government jobs in Atlanta accounting for 3% of total employment. For RGA, the percentage doubles with state government jobs accounting for 6% of total employment outside the Atlanta metro area.

Clearly, employment in government, federal, state, and local government combined, is of much more importance to the RGA than it is to the Atlanta metro area. Job losses in this sector would be more deeply felt in RGA than in the Atlanta metro area.

One sector where RGA has a significantly larger proportion of jobs compared to the Atlanta area is in manufacturing.

In the Atlanta metro area, manufacturing represents 6% of all employment, while in RGA, it accounts for 13% of employment.

Over the past 10 years, the state has added 63,100 jobs in manufacturing with the additions about evenly split between the Atlanta area and RGA.

Urban areas outside Atlanta

While the Atlanta metro area is the state’s largest urban area, Georgia is home to 13 other metropolitan areas ranging in size from Augusta with 246,000 jobs to Hinesville with 21,000.

Two of the 13 areas posted job growth rates above 2% in 2019. Gainesville added 3,400 jobs resulting in a 3.6% growth rate, and Rome added 1,100 jobs for a 2.6% job growth rate.

Although Gainesville is classified as its own metropolitan statistical area, the area sits adjacent to the Atlanta metro area and is classified by the Census Bureau as a part of the Atlanta-Athens-Clarke-Sandy Springs Combined Statistical Area (CSA). Some portion of Gainesville area residents commute to the Atlanta area daily for work.

Columbus was the only area in the state to lose jobs in 2019, with a net loss of 1,500 jobs or -1.2%. Albany recorded zero job growth over the year.

Excluding the Atlanta area, the other 13 metro areas reported a net addition of 13,100 jobs in 2019 for a growth rate of 1.1%. Unfortunately, since some of the state’s metro areas include counties outside Georgia, it is difficult to determine how changes in employment in those non-Georgia counties affected the overall employment of those metro areas that overlap two states, such as Augusta and Columbus.

Conclusion

Focusing only on statewide job growth can lead to misleading conclusions about the economic health of the state.

While the state as a whole is seeing job growth above the national average, the longer-term trend has been for that growth to concentrate in the Atlanta metro area.

Meanwhile, the rest of the state is seeing jobs concentrate in manufacturing and government, neither of which have been particularly strong growth engines.

Georgia is one of the largest states geographically east of the Mississippi River, so commuting to jobs in the Atlanta metro area by individuals living in other parts of the state is not a viable option for most of the state.

More likely, young people are being drawn out of other parts of the state into the Atlanta area in search of better employment opportunities as rural areas hollow out.

This trend has been evident for some time, so reversing it, even if desirable, will be difficult. Once a growth pattern like this develops, it feeds on itself, as more jobs create more opportunities, drawing more people from low growth areas to Atlanta in a self-reinforcing process.