Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Chattanooga unemployment up

Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Chattanooga unemployment up

July 27th, 2012 by Carey O'Neil and Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Dr. Bill Fox, director of the University of Tennessee Center for Business and Economic Research

Dr. Bill Fox, director of the University of...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

Unemployment in the Chattanooga area jumped last month by eight-tenths of a percent to the highest rate since last fall, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday.

With school out and government employment down, the jobless rate in metropolitan Chattanooga rose in June to 8.2 percent, the highest rate since last September. In the six-county Chattanooga area, 21,630 workers looking for jobs were unable to find employment last month.

Bill Fox, director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, said most of the increase in unemployment stemmed from seasonal factors from the end of the school year when fewer school systems and colleges employ their own staff and their students are out looking for summer jobs.

"But similar to what we've seen in the past couple of years, there has been a bit of a summer swoon in terms of job creation and a bit of an uptick in the jobless rate," Fox said. "We still expect moderate growth in the economy and a decline in unemployment over time. But the jobless rate is likely to stay near the current levels for some time with the fairly sluggish pace of this recovery."

JoAnn Norris, a former tufting machine operator for Shaw Industries in Dalton, Ga., is among those looking for work. She lost her job in February after nearly 35 years at the carpet company.

Norris said paying her family's bills with unemployment benefits is difficult, especially since her husband lost his job two weeks ago.

"You're thinking you're going to stay there till you retire, but then they just started letting people go," she said Thursday as she sat in Dalton's Labor Department office waiting to renew her unemployment benefits.

Norris was at retirement age and doesn't expect to find much work in the area.

Dalton, Ga., has been especially hard hit by the recession. Last month, the jobless rate in metro Dalton, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties in North Georgia, rose nine tenths of a percent to 12.3 percent -- the highest of any of Georgia's 14 metropolitan areas.

"The carpet industry continues to be hurt by the housing downturn and we saw some cuts in teacher jobs showing up last month," said state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Ga., the executive director of the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority. "But we're going to work to bring that rate down."

Across the 20-county Chattanooga region in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, the jobless rate was lowest in Catoosa County at 7.4 percent but highest in neighboring Whitfield County at 12.3 percent.

In metro Chattanooga, which includes Hamilton, Marion and Sequatchie counties in Tennessee, and Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in Georgia, the jobless rate was lower in Georgia than in Tennessee.

Half of the area counties still had double-digit unemployment rates last month, two years after the Great Recession officially ended, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, which tracks recessions and recoveries.