published Friday, December 27th, 2013

Unemployment falls in most greater Chattanooga area counties; jobless rate at 5-year low

Unemployment declined last month in most Chattanooga area counties to the lowest level in more than five years.

State employment data released Thursday showed that the jobless rates in metropolitan Chattanooga and neighboring Cleveland, Tenn., fell during November below the U.S. average for the first time this year. In metro Dalton, unemployment dipped to its lowest mark since October 2008.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said joblessness in the 6-county Chattanooga metro area decreased in November by eight-tenths of a percent to 6.8 percent -- 0.2 percent below the U.S. rate of 7 percent last month. The jobless rate declined even more in metro Cleveland as unemployment fell to 6.7 percent -- the lowest level since 2008.

Chattanooga's jobless rate was above that in Nashville and Knoxville but below the rate in Memphis.

Some of the November decline was due to seasonal factors as retailers and online shipping companies staffed up for the holiday shopping rush. Amazon.com, which operates distribution centers in Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., added more than 2,000 temporary workers during November and December to help handle the record number of packages ordered through Amazon this year.

Most of those seasonal Amazon jobs are ending this week along with hundreds of other temporary retail jobs at area stores. But other jobs are opening up next month.

Virginia McWherter was busy Thursday preparing to begin working again next month for her 10th year as a tax preparer at H&R Block. The tax preparation business is opening a new office in January in Ooltewah near where McWherter lives.

"It's a good job, but I don't get rich," she said. "I try to work other jobs through the year, but every year I come back to H&R Block."

Other workers are still trying to find jobs, however.

Amber Childress, a 24-year-old worker from Marion County, lost her job at Global Lighting in Hixson last month when most of the city of Chattanooga's contract ended for energy-efficient street lights. The company is waiting on the city for the next phase of their project, and Childress said she hopes the city moves ahead so she can go back to work.

"I definitely want to go back to work there if I can because it was a great job with great people," she said while looking for another job Thursday at the Tennessee Career Center in Chattanooga. "It breaks my heart if I can't go back there and I have to find work somewhere else because that's one job I really loved."

Jobs are coming back in the Carpet Capital of Dalton, Ga., which had been one of the hardest hit metropolitan areas in the country during the recession. The Georgia Department of Labor said metro Dalton had its lowest jobless level since October 2008. Last month, 9.4 percent of the workers in the Dalton area were out of work, down a half percent from October. The rate was 10.8 percent in November a year ago.

The number of jobless workers in Dalton has declined by 997 over the past year.

Across the Chattanooga region, the jobless rate was lowest in Catoosa County, where the 5.4 percent unemployment rate was the lowest since October 2008 when the jobless rate was 5.2 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

Among 19 area counties, only a half dozen had jobless rates below the U.S. average last month. Three counties in the region -- Van Buren and Rhea counties in Tennessee and Murray county in Georgia -- continued to report jobless rates above 10 percent for the fifth consecutive year.

The U.S. job market is continuing to show gains in employment, however. On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits dropped by 42,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 338,000, the biggest drop since November 2012. But economists cautioned that figures from late November and December are warped by seasonal volatility around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs and the recent declines are consistent with a solid job market.

Hiring has been healthy the past four months. The economy added an average of 204,000 jobs every month from August through November, an improvement from earlier this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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