Metro Atlanta wages stall despite tighter job market

2:07 p.m Friday, July 7, 2017 Business
BRYAN ANSELM
The labor market has tightened, but wage growth is not taking off. (Bryan Anselm/The New York Times)

While Atlanta’s job growth has been faster than the nation’s, wage gains here are not keeping up, according to a survey toting up millions of paychecks.

The U.S. jobs report Friday touted strong hiring, and although metro Atlanta’s economy continues to grow, a report from Glassdoor Economic Research showed weakness on the wage front.

The jobs-wage contradiction is not just an Atlanta problem, said Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist of Glassdoor. “Overall, pay growth is slowing in the U.S. This remains a puzzle for economists because unemployment is setting new record lows in many cities.”

It is more of a mystery for Atlanta, because growth has been better here.

Atlanta’s job base has grown at a 3.1 percent pace for the past year – almost twice as fast as the national expansion. The region’s unemployment rate was 4.5 percent in May, less than half its double-digit levels of the post-recession malaise. The region added 4,600 jobs during the month.

The national jobless rate for June ticked up to 4.4 percent. Metro Atlanta’s June data will be released later this month.

As of January, Atlanta wages were climbing at a modest but solid 2.8 percent-a-year pace.

But now, wage growth in Atlanta has retreated for five months in a row. As of June, wages were up less than 1 percent from a year earlier, according to Glassdoor, which tracks jobs and pay around the country.

Among large U.S. metros, San Francisco was the only one with growth greater than 2 percent.

The official unemployment rate is close to pre-recession levels. After years of high unemployment when they could be selective about hiring, many businesses now complain that have trouble finding workers they want.

But when there’s a shortage of anything, basic economics predicts a rise in the price of it.

And most paychecks are not offering proof of a shortage, said Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

“At the current rate of growth, it is clear that employers need to do little to attract and retain the workers they want and any significant signs of labor shortages are simply not showing up in the data.”

Of course, raises – or the lack of them – vary by sector and job.

Warehouse workers saw average wages rise 4 percent during the year, but still make less than $40,000 a year, according to Glassdoor. Baristas saw pay jump nearly 8 percent – and still make less than $25,000.

On the other hand, some jobs have suffered pay cuts.

And while many economists have been skeptical about claims that automation is stealing jobs, Chamberlain speculated that some positions were in fact at risk from technology. Loan officers, for instance, saw average pay drop 6 percent. Design engineers, whose work may be challenged by software, saw pay fall 4.6 percent.

Median Atlanta pay is $52,763, about $1,400 more than the national median, according to Glassdoor.

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