After doing a bit more research I stumbled upon this:

http://unix.stackexchange.com/questions/253903/creating-threads-fails-with-resource-temporarily-unavailable-with-4-3-kernel
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11675129

Looks like systemd imposes another, smaller limit on the number of
processes that a user can run:

cat /sys/fs/cgroup/pids/user.slice/user-1000.slice/pids.max
12288

It would have been nice if the 'fork' man page mentioned that this could
be a cause for failure. :(

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https://bugs.launchpad.net/bugs/1624043

Title:
  Call to fork/clone fails with EAGAIN (before encountering resource
  limits)

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