Tennessee jobless rate falls to 15-year low

Tennessee jobless rate falls to 15-year low

June 17th, 2016 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Staff File Photo People wait in line at an Amazon job fair at the Brainerd Crossroads on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Staff File Photo People wait in line at...

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Jobless in May

Tennessee 4.1 percent down 0.2 percent

Georgia 5.3 percent down 0.2 percent

U.S. average 4.7 percent down 0.3 percent

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Georgia Department of Labor

Unemployment in Tennessee fell last month to its lowest level in more than 15 years as the economy of the Volunteer State continued to grow at a faster rate than the rest of the nation.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday the state's seasonally adjusted jobless rate in May dropped by another two-tenths of a percentage point to 4.1 percent. Tennessee's rate was below the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.7 percent last month and was the lowest since April 2001.

"Tennessee's economic growth, as measured by employment and sales tax collections, has really been extraordinary so far this year and continues to outpace the nation," said Dr. William Fox, director of the University of Tennessee's Center for Business and Economic Research.

Over the past year, Tennessee employers added 60,900 jobs, boosting employment at a 2.1 percent annual rate compared to the 1.7 percent growth rate nationwide.

Job growth was even faster in neighboring Georgia, where employment has jumped by 2.9 percent in the past year as employers in the Peach State added 124,600 jobs over the past year. But unemployment in Georgia, which was hit harder than many states by the Great Recession, remained above the U.S. average last month.

The Georgia Department of Labor said the May jobless rate fell to 5.3 percent, the lowest state rate since January 2008. Georgia's jobless rate remained above the comparable U.S. rate of 4.7 percent in May, however.

Unlike Tennessee and most other states last month, Georgia's jobless rate fell entirely because of job additions, not any decline in the workforce.

"We had the fewest unemployed workers since the beginning of the recession, and our labor force continued to increase," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. "The big reason for the drop in the national rate had nothing to do with employment or jobs. It all had to do with the fact that 458,000 people dropped out of the nation's workforce, and that is not a good reason."

Employers said they are eager to get more people back in the workforce and applying for work.

Mark Campbell, owner of the Manpower franchise in the Chattanooga area for the past 25 years, said the job market is as tight for employers as he has ever seen.

"I've been predicting for the past year that a storm was coming for employers, and we're in that now," Campbell said. "We've got a lot of jobs to fill, especially with the expansion of Volkswagen and all of its suppliers. We need more workers."

The tighter labor market appeared to boost both wages and hours worked for manufacturing employees in Tennessee last month. The average Tennessee factory worker was on the job in May for 43.1 hours per week, 0.9 hours a week longer than the previous month. Last month's average manufacturing hourly wage also rose by 46 cents an hour to $18.23.

"We're starting to see employers bid up wages in order to recruit or keep workers, and that is starting to increase pay in some areas," Fox said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.