Saturday, June 18, 2022

Employment up and unemployment rate down, but it isn’t all good news for Georgia in May

Georgia saw the addition of 18,100 jobs in May and a drop of the state’s unemployment rate to 3.0%, which is the lowest unemployment rate recorded in Georgia (back to 1976). The state’s employment-population ratio (the number of employed people as a percentage of the civilian noninstitutional population) rose to 60.5, reaching the level it achieved in February 2020, before Covid-related cutbacks and shutdowns. The state’s labor force participation rate (the participation rate is the percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work.) rose to 62.3, still below the level in February 2020. 

Those are the headlines, and if you stop there, you are getting only part of the picture of the state’s labor market. 

Job growth by metro area 

Underlying those numbers, it is worth noting that the Atlanta metro area, which has served as the engine for the state’s employment growth, saw an increase of only 4,400 jobs in May, the slowest rate of increase since September. While one-month slowdown in the state’s largest metro area is not a concern and may easily be rectified when the revised numbers are produced next month, it needs to be an area of concern. 

Despite the continued good numbers overall, 6 of the state’s 14 metro areas reported employment below their pre-pandemic levels. Because the Atlanta area constitutes such a large portion of the state’s labor market, it can mask slower growth in other parts of the state. 

Areas showing May 2022 job levels lower than in February 2020 include Valdosta (-200), Dalton (-300), Warner Robins (-500), Augusta (-2,800), Columbus (-1,700), and Albany (-1,100). Most of these areas have never achieved their pre-pandemic jobs levels, although Dalton had reached that level but has slipped back in the past few months. 

Job growth by industry 

A similar situation relates to jobs by industry. Georgia has added 244,100 jobs over the past 12 months, resulting in a 5.4% job growth rate, but not all sectors in the economy have reached their pre-pandemic levels despite this overall increase. 

Construction employment in the state remains 4,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic level (down nearly 2%) mainly due to a lack of job growth in the heavy construction (infrastructure) industry. 

Employment in corporate offices (referred to as management of companies and enterprises) remains down by 1,500 jobs. 

Jobs in accommodation and food services remain 16,800 (-3.7%) below their pre-pandemic level, while jobs in other services are 7,300 (-4.3%) below the level reached in February 2020. 

Both state and local government jobs remain below pre-pandemic levels with state government jobs down by 13,200 (-7.9%) and local government employment down by 9,000 (-2.1%). 

Even with the upbeat news on job growth and the decline in the state’s unemployment rate, its worth remembering that not all industries or all areas of the state have recovered yet.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Heavy and civil engineering construction continues to lag in Georgia and foretell future problems


Drive around the Atlanta area and you are bound to see new construction – both multifamily and single-family residences continue to spring up all over the metro area, as they are in other parts of the state, such as the Savannah area.

Despite these visible signs of improvement, construction employment continues to lag behind the private sector in general.

In 2021, average annual employment in Georgia’s private sector grew by almost 4.9%, while construction employment rose by only 2%.

Residential construction keeping up construction employment

Much of the disparity lies with the increase of residential construction versus nonresidential building and heavy and civil engineering construction.

Between 2020 and 2021, employment in residential construction increased by 5.4%, while nonresidential building construction rose by 1.5%, and employment in heavy and civil engineering construction actually declined 3.8%.

Compared to February 2020 (pre-pandemic), construction employment through April is ahead by 3,165 workers, with building construction employment up by 1,743 and specialty trades contractors’ employment increasing by 4,148.

Heavy and civil engineering construction

What is heavy and civil engineering construction? Think water and sewers, pipeline, and power and communication systems, not to mention roads and bridges, and you have a pretty good idea of the types of construction that fall into this category.

Employment in heavy and civil engineering construction is actually down by -2,726 compared to its pre-pandemic levels.

Imbalances will lead to problems

The imbalances in the recovery of the construction sector point to trends as well as future problems.

The trend in constructing residential versus nonresidential buildings can be partly explained by the work-from-home trend as fewer workers on-site means less need for commercial office space.

Unfortunately, the trend in residential construction without the corresponding increase in water, sewer, and other types of heavy construction, such as roads, means that residents of these newly occupied family dwellings will find themselves with inadequate infrastructure to support their living.

As a result, more crowded roads, decaying bridges, inadequate water systems, etc., look to frustrate residents.

Since most heavy construction is publicly funded through taxes, the solution depends on the willingness of taxpayers to increase taxes on themselves. Short of increased taxes to fund public improvements, Georgians will find themselves complaining about the situation while unwilling to take the necessary steps towards improving it.