Employers in metropolitan Chattanooga added nearly 2,400 jobs last year to end 2012 with the lowest December jobless rate in five years.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Employment Security reported Thursday that unemployment in the six-county Chattanooga area last month was 7.2 percent, or 0.4 percent below both the comparable state and national rates for December.
Although the jobless rate last month was up from the November rate of only 6.4 percent, most of the change was from seasonal factors such as tourist attractions, manufacturers and schools reduced hiring at the end of the year.
Despite the seasonal upturn in December, unemployment was lower than year-ago levels throughout Tennessee and Georgia.
"After an extended period of uncertainty, it looks like jobs are being added again and people are more confident," said David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University. "With Congress seeming to be willing to back off major confrontations about fiscal matters, perhaps that will calm things down about hiring this year."
Penn said uncertainty about taxes, regulations and spending in Washington D.C. still is a concern.
Furthermore, cost-saving measures adopted during the recession are likely to limit employment growth from the pace of previous recoveries.
"Certainly, productivity increases have greatly limited the number of new hires required to fill new orders," Penn said.
Across the region, the jobless rate was lowest last month in the North Georgia counties of Catoosa and Dade. The unemployment rate was in double-digit levels in a rural counties in Southeast Tennessee and in metropolitan Dalton.
Metro Dalton, where more than half of all U.S. carpet is produced, had the highest jobless rate of any of Georgia's 14 metropolitan areas in December. The 11.3 percent jobless rate for Dalton in December was up three-tenths of a percent from November but still a full percent below the year-ago level.
Dalton's drop in unemployment in the past year was entirely from a decline in the workforce in the carpet capital.
Over the past year, Dalton shed 562 jobs and the size of the local labor force has declined by 1,296 workers, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.