Unemployment fell in metropolitan Chattanooga, Cleveland and Dalton, Ga., last month to the lowest levels since 2008 as the economy continued to bounce back from the worst downturn since World War II.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday the jobless rate fell during March by four-tenths of a percent in the six-county Chattanooga area and by a half percent in the two-county Cleveland metro area to identical 6.4 percent rates. Both metro areas had lower joblessness than the non-seasonally adjusted U.S. rate in March of 6.8 percent or the comparable statewide rate of 7 percent.
"Our biggest problem is finding enough qualified workers for the jobs available," said Brad Hake, owner of the Chattanooga franchise for Express Employment Professionals, which works with more than 120 area employers. "Since Volkswagen and its suppliers came to town, it's been a lot harder to find enough qualified and hard-working welders, machinists and other skilled trades."
In metropolitan Dalton, the March jobless rate was the lowest in nearly six years as carpet mills continued to rebound from the prolonged housing slump. The Georgia Department of Labor said unemployment in metro Dalton fell by a half percent during March to 8.6 percent, the lowest level since August 2008. Dalton added 600 jobs during the month, primarily in trade and textile manufacturing.
Dalton's unemployment rate has dropped in the past year by nearly two full percentage points from its 10.4 percent rate in March 2013. But the jobless rate in the metro area, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, is still above the statewide average unemployment rate last month of 7.1 percent.
Among Georgia's 14 metro areas, unemployment was highest in Dalton at 8.6 percent and lowest in Athens at 5.1 percent.
In Tennessee, unemployment was lowest in Williamson County at 4.6 percent and highest in Lawrence County at 10.4 percent.
"Tennessee had a healthy 1.7 percent growth in employment over the past year and is now in line with the U.S. rate," said Dr. Bill Fox, director of economic research at the University of Tennessee' Center for Business and Economic Research. "I doubt we will have that strong of a growth for all of 2014, but we do expect the economy to continue to improve this year."
The jobless rate was even lower in Catoosa County just over the state line in North Georgia at 4.5 percent. Catoosa County had the second-lowest jobless rate in all of Georgia, behind only Oconee County with a 4 percent jobless rate in March.
In addition to the job growth of the past year, state figures also show continued growth in wages in Tennessee. The average weekly earnings for Tennessee workers in March were $723.98 per week, up 2.5 percent from a year ago.
Tennessee wages still averaged 11.7 percent less than the U.S. average weekly wage of $819.42, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree press.com or at 757-6340.