ATLANTA — The demand for mental healthcare has ballooned during the pandemic. Therapist Jessica Francis has experienced the surge in demand firsthand at her private practice and lately, finances have proven increasingly concerning for her clients.
“Every therapist I know is either at capacity or almost there," Francis said. “People are still feeling stretched, even as their paychecks may be higher. They’re having trouble still making it from paycheck to paycheck, because the money is going out the door just as fast as it comes in.”
Georgia just recorded a historically low unemployment rate of 3.1%. The rate has been falling for months now, with big gains coming in the rebounding hospitality industry and transportation. Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said initial unemployment claims have also fallen by 14% from February to March of this year, and they have fallen 87% from a year ago.
"We saw the most people we've ever had in our workforce, and that's everybody who's either working or actively seeking work," Butler said. "They've been very successful in finding jobs. Jobs aren't the issue in Georgia. The issue is having enough people to fill those jobs."
Butler said the state still has more than 300,000 job openings, notably in healthcare and government. But with low unemployment, there are fewer people to fill the positions. And while Butler said wages are generally up 9% over the last two years, higher labor costs are leading to higher inflation with businesses often charging consumers more to account for the increase in costs.
"We need more individuals in the workforce, because our job growth is outpacing the supply chain of individuals," Butler said.
Long-term, Kennesaw State University economics professor Dr. Mikhail Melnik said inflation should subside, especially with the Federal Reserve keen on continuing to raise interest rates. But he noted prices may remain high as a lagging indicator of a balancing economy.
"Inflation is starting to deteriorate the middle class, and that’s going to reduce the ability of the middle class to sustain discretionary spending," Melnik said. "The economy will slightly slow down, people will be encouraged to reenter the labor market, and this hunt for workers will not be entirely met, but almost. Georgia is one of the most competitive states for business."
At her practice, Francis said she has noticed her clients' growing concerns over income keeping up with inflation at the grocery store, gas pump, daycare and medical facilities. She's hoping an answer comes soon.
“The everyday life stresses have built so much that they’re unmanageable on their own,” Francis said.