Atlanta job growth slowing, says forecaster

Job growth in Atlanta will slow next year and in 2019, but the unemployment rate should remain below 5 percent, according to a report released Wednesday by Georgia State’s Economic Forecasting Center.

The metro area will add about 51,900 jobs in 2018, compared to about 68,900 by the end of this year and more than 90,000 in 2016, said center director Rajeev Dhawan.

All of the state’s metro areas should gain jobs next year, but metro Atlanta will account for nearly three-quarters of the job growth, he said during the center’s quarterly conference.

Several years of rapid growth in corporate employment has peaked, while stalwart sectors have lost jobs, Dhawan said. “Things are slowing.”

  • Manufacturing has been hurt by a strong dollar, which has made Georgia-made products more expensive overseas.
  • Construction jobs have declined along with a slowdown in the building of houses and apartments.
  • Retail has been undercut by online shopping and a surplus of stores.

The growth of online retail should have its benefits for Atlanta, said economist Mekael Teshome with PNC Bank, thanks to the region’s transportation and logistics industries.

Only a handful sectors will be stronger next year, including the financial sector and information technology, Dhawan said. Plus, he said, “The growth in the film industry is adding jobs in two sectors – hospitality and tech.”

However, many of the jobs being added are not high-paying positions, he said. Fewer than one in four of the new jobs are going to pay more than about $50,000 a year.

Dhawan’s report predicts that the state’s unemployment rate will remain below 5 percent for the next several years, a sign of relatively full employment.

The economy has been growing since mid-2009, making the expansion one of the longest on record. But there’s no sign of a downturn yet on the horizon, Dhawan said. He predicted growth through at least 2019.

There are some potential dangers.

For example, the current tussle over a tax bill includes a proposal to remove the tax benefits of purchasing a home – an idea that could chill new construction of houses. “If you take away those deductions, it ain’t going to be pretty,” he said.

Whatever happens with that provision, Dhawan said he does expect any bill that makes it through Congress to include tax cuts for the middle class – roughly defined as households with incomes between $50,000 and $120,000.

Continued economic health also depends on avoiding a spike in energy prices, he said.

Oil, which soared to $120 a barrel in the summer of 2008 as the economy was tanking, has been less than half that price since mid-2015. U.S. production has been steady, which will keep that price from rising much – unless there is a more serious crisis in the Middle East, he said.

Dhawan said the price of oil should not break past $60 a barrel for the next two years.

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