Jobless rate up again in Chattanooga area

Jobless rate up again in Chattanooga area

August 24th, 2012 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region
Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

Jim Pettyjohn was unemployed for nearly two years before he landed what he hoped would be a new career at one of the distribution facilities Amazon opened in Southeast Tennessee last year.

But after an illness cost him his Amazon job in April, Pettyjohn was back at the unemployment office Thursday trying to find other work.

"When you're 57 years old trying to find a job with a livable wage, it's still tough in this market," Pettyjohn said. "I'd love to go back to Amazon or find some other job, but it's hard when you have to compete against younger workers."

Three years after the Great Recession officially ended, Pettyjohn and other jobless Chattanoogans still face a tough job market. Unemployment in metropolitan Chattanooga rose in July for the second consecutive month to its highest level since last September.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that 8.3 percent of the workers in the 6-county Chattanooga metro area were without jobs during July. Employment in the metro area was up by only 730 jobs, or 0.3 percent, from a year ago.

The job market was even worse to the south. Metropolitan Dalton shed another 3,900 jobs, or 6 percent of its workforce, from July 2011 to July 2012. The Georgia Department of Labor said Dalton's 12.5 percent jobless rate in July was the highest among the state's 14 metropolitan areas.

Across the 17 counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, the unemployment rate in July fell in only two counties and was at 10 percent or higher in nearly half of the area counties.

Only Catoosa and Walker counties in Georgia and Coffee county in Tennessee had lower jobless rates last month than the U.S. nonseasonally adjusted rate off 8.4 percent.

The Carpet Capital in Dalton, where a majority of America's floorcovering is produced, continued to have the highest jobless rate among any metropolitan area in Georgia or Tennessee. Dalton was hard hit by the housing slump and is still battling a shift to hardwood floors and continued weakness in commercial construction.

"I think the housing market has bottomed out, but we're still seeing real weakness in commercial construction and that will continue to hurt the floorcovering industry in Dalton," said Jeff Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. "We're expecting economic growth to slow from the first quarter rate (of 2 percent), so unemployment is likely to stay at its current elevated level or move even higher."

Chattanooga's recovery has been bolstered by the addition of more than 5,000 jobs over the past four years from new facilities from Volkswagen, Amazon and Alstom Power.

Quinterious Allen, a 25-year-old inspector for VW contractor Atco Industries, said Thursday his $10-an-hour job in the Volkswagen plant "is the best work I've ever had" and he is eager for a promotion.

"Volkswagen was a big boost for a lot of people," he said.

But the churning economy is still displacing other workers.

Robert T. Nash, the 49-year-old former radio talk show host who lost his job with WPLZ-FM in January, was dropping off an application Thursday to potentially become a long-haul truck driver.

"Career-quality jobs that pay a living wage seem to be very difficult to come by," Nash said. "I've had more interviews, call-backs and networking opportunities than ever before, but as of yet no one has said you're hired.

"I like to drive and maybe it's time to look at the USA through a windshield," he quipped.