COVID-19 has put the economy on a roller coaster ride. 

In the early days of the pandemic, unemployment rolls soared as businesses shed jobs. In April 2020, a record 20.5 million Americans lost their jobs, with unemployment reaching a mind-blowing 14.8% 

The economy has recovered over the past year, but labor markets are still in flux. Even with a record 10 million jobs open nationwide and unemployment at 5.2%,  according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, there seems to be an imbalance in the supply and demand sides of the labor equation. 

In the afterglow of Labor Day, and with an estimated 7.5 million workers across the country expected to lose enhanced pandemic unemployment benefits as of Sept. 6, here’s a look at the current state of the labor market in Georgia and metro Atlanta: 

Georgia’s unemployment rate is on the decline

In July, Georgia’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.7%, mirroring rates seen before the pandemic, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. The local labor force increased to 5.71 million, up more than 200,000 since July 2020. 

Currently, the number of total job postings listed at Employ Georgia stands at 204,904 (as of Sept. 9).

Workers want more than just a job 

The pandemic made many workers re-evaluate their jobs and careers. They’re in search of increased pay, better working conditions, greater work-life balance, and scheduling flexibility. 

Daisy Maina, a single mom of two, has been unemployed since May. The Acworth resident, who has an associate degree, has done many interviews. But she’s struggled to find a well-paying job that offers flexibility so that she can take care of her kids. 

“The jobs are there, but employers don’t want to accommodate the employee’s hours,” Maina said. “The minute I ask about the schedule, nobody wants to listen. There’s no flexibility.”

Enhanced unemployment benefits didn’t hold back workers from seeking jobs 

According to a recent Wall Street Journal analysis, rates of job growth in states such as Georgia that ended pandemic unemployment benefits early and job growth rates in states that continued benefits  are about the same. 

While economists tend to agree that the enhanced benefits certainly played a role in some people staying out of the labor market, they also point to more salient  factors contributing to slack in the labor market, including caring for family members, school closures, an imbalance in demand and supply, preference for working remotely, worker location and skills, fear of Covid-19, and employee retirements 

Workforce participation rates are down

For many of the reasons listed above, people are not getting back into the labor force quickly. The labor force participation rate is hovering around 62 percent, very low by historic standards, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. 

The low participation rate may be artificially holding down the real unemployment rates, which when considered in isolation might suggest we’re bouncing back. When we look closer at numbers of long-term unemployed and underemployed workers, they are higher than desirable.  

And … why are there 10 million job openings? 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers say they have more than 10 million jobs open that are not currently filled. Many of these jobs, however, are likely temporary, and many others don’t offer a clear career path to greater responsibility and higher pay.  

These jobs tend to be on the lower end of the wage spectrum, and given the recent slight upward pressure on wages, businesses have an incentive to cut positions and/or automate in fairly short order. It may be too early to see how this is playing out in metro Atlanta. 

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.