Unemployment fell last month across Tennessee and Georgia, although the jobless rates in both states remained above the national average.
Tennessee added 11,200 last month to cut the unemployment rate by 0.4 percent to 8.7 percent _ the lowest rate in three years, the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday.
In Georgia, unemployment fell by one-tenth of a percent to 9.7 percent in December following the biggest two-month drop in unemployment in nearly 35 years.
Nationwide, the unemployment rate declined by one-tenth of a percent last month to 8.5 percent.
"We expect the improvement to continue this year as the recovery gains more traction," said Matt Murray, associate director for the University of Tennessee's Center for Business and Economic Research. "But unemployment will still remain at historically high levels."
schools up, transportation down
Employment grew by 2.3 percent over the past year in Tennessee with job gains in local schools, construction and manufacturing. From December 2010 to December 2011, the number of Tennesseans on the job fell in transportation and utilities, information services and hospitals.
In the past year, Georgia's private sector employment grew by 11,300 jobs. But those gains were more than offset by the loss of 20,300 jobs in state and local government as the public sector adjusted to shrinking budgets.
Georgia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 9.7 percent last month was well below the 10.4 percent rate of a year ago. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal heralded the decline in the unemployment rate as "great news for our state.
"A decrease in unemployment alongside a number of other positive economic indicators suggests we are heading in the right direction," Deal said. "I am fully committed to making Georgia the No. 1 state in the nation in which to do business."
bad news in dalton
Georgia gained 600 construction jobs in December, the first time construction has increased employment in December since 2003. Manufacturing grew last month by 400 jobs, the first December growth since 2005. Job gains also came in information services and trade and transportation.
The state will release local unemployment figures next week. But preliminary figures showed that metropolitan Dalton continued to lose jobs.
The number of workers on the job in metropolitan Dalton last month was down by 4.9 percent, or 3,200 jobs, from December 2010. Dalton had the biggest job loss of any of the state's 14 metro areas, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.