Unemployment last month showed its first sign of easing in Southeast Tennessee since the recession began more than a year ago.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday that, in April, the jobless rate was down in eight of the 11 Tennessee counties in and around Chattanooga.
Across Tennessee, unemployment was up in 29 counties, down in 59 counties and remained unchanged in seven others.
But when adjusted for seasonal factors, the state’s overall jobless rate still rose to 9.9 percent in April — the highest rate since March 1984.
“Unemployment tends to lag other economic indicators, and we continue to expect that unemployment statewide will reach double-digit levels and probably continue to rise into early 2010,” University of Tennessee economist Matt Murray said recently.
In the six-county Chattanooga metropolitan area, the nonseasonally adjusted jobless rate in April fell by 0.3 percent to 8.7 percent as the region recorded a net gain of 190 jobs. The number of unemployed people looking for work also rose in the region by 1,170 during April.
Over the past year, metro Chattanooga shed a net 10,600 jobs, according to state job figures. The employment cuts have sliced across income levels and occupations and nearly have doubled the unemployment rate in most counties in Southeast Tennessee since April 2008.
Kedric Williams, a 19-year-old high school graduate who lives with his mother in the Highway 58 area, thought he landed an ideal job in November with Federal Express. But the job ended for him in February, and he hasn’t been able to find another job since.
“I’ve put in applications at restaurants and other businesses, but no one seems to be hiring right now,” he said Thursday outside the Chattanooga office of the Tennessee Career Center. “It’s hard on everyone right now.”
Last January, the downturn also took the job of Chuck Arnold, an architect and project manager with the Artech Design Group for 19 years.
“I knew business was slowing down, but I didn’t expect the market to be as bad as it has turned out to be,” he said.
Statewide, manufacturing employment is down a net 40,500 jobs and construction and mining employment is off by 25,400 jobs from a year ago, according to the state labor department.
Although unemployment rose slightly in Hamilton County during April, the county maintained the lowest jobless rate in Southeast Tennessee.
Despite a 0.2 percent dip in unemployment last month, Meigs County continued to have the highest jobless rate in the region with an April unemployment level of 14.1 percent.