After four consecutive months of rising unemployment, the jobless rate dropped last month in both Tennessee and Georgia as the number of new jobless claims sank nationwide last week to a 14-year low.
The monthly household survey of workers continued to show elevated rates of joblessness in Georgia and Tennessee compared with the U.S. as a whole. But a broader employer survey found both states added jobs over the past year at a faster clip than the United States as a whole.
"The data from the household survey and the employer data continue to be conflicted, but we're clearly moving in the right direction with a better economy," said Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "We expect that trend to continue."
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that the state's unemployment rate fell by 0.1 percent during September to 7.3 percent. In Georgia, the state Department of Labor said the jobless rate declined by 0.2 percent to 7.9 percent.
Nationwide, unemployment declined in September by 0.2 percent to 5.9 percent.
The jobless rate is based upon household surveys conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of workers in each state. Those surveys have tended to count fewer new jobs over the past year than the broader employer survey, also conducted by the BLS.
In Tennessee, for example, the household survey showed employment in Tennessee declined by 0.6 percent in the past year, while the employer survey found a healthy 2.2 percent gain in jobs in the same period. Similar disparities have shown up in Georgia.
Both Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, R-Tenn., and Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler have questioned the accuracy of the household surveys which suggest an inexplicable drop in total employment.
"The data is what the data is, but most all of our other economic indicators suggest that the state and employment is going up, not down," Fox said.
The employer survey found Tennessee added 60,700 jobs in the past year, while Georgia added a net 80,000 new jobs in the past year.
"Our impressive over-the-year growth keeps Georgia among the leading states for job creation," Butler said. "And, the growth is in every private sector job category we track, with government being the only sector showing a loss."
Nonetheless, Georgia's 8.1 percent in August -- the last month for which all the states have reported jobless rates -- was the highest of any of the 50 states.
In another sign of economic improvement, the U.S. Labor Department reported separately on Thursday that the number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid dropped to the lowest level in 14 years last week.
The government said weekly applications for unemployment aid fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 264,000, the lowest level since April 2000. Given that the U.S. population has grown considerably since then, the proportion of the U.S. workforce applying for benefits is even smaller.
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said the drop in jobless claims was "spectacular" and "astonishing."
"Whether claims can be sustained at such a low level -- an all-time low, as a share of payroll employment -- is debatable," he said. "But this is a clear signal of real strength in the labor market."
The economy has added 2.64 million jobs in the past 12 months, the best annual showing since April 2006.
Despite the improved hiring, the job market remains scarred from the recession. More than 7 million people hold part-time jobs but want full-time work, up from 4.6 million before the downturn. And there are still twice as many people unemployed for longer than six months as there were before the recession, even though that figure has steadily declined in the past three years.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 757-6340.