Unemployment in Tennessee edged higher for the second consecutive month in December to reach its highest rate since last summer as the pace of job growth slowed at the end of 2017.
But the Volunteer State still ended the year with 28,700 more jobs than a year ago and a jobless rate well below the U.S. average.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December rose by a tenth of a percentage point to 3.2 percent. Tennessee's jobless rate was still well below the comparable U.S. rate of 4.1 percent last month and was down by 1.9 percentage points from the rate at the end of 2016.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam touted the job gains, although the 1 percent yearly gain in employment in the December business survey showed a growth rate only about half as much as the pace through most of the past seven years.
"Jobs are created when businesses put capital at risk, and we've created an environment in Tennessee that encourages job growth and is attracting more companies to expand and locate here." Haslam said in a statement. "But we've also invested in our citizens through Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect to prepare our workforce for the job demands of today's employers."
Tennessee's jobless rate fell to a record low of only 3 percent in both September and October before edging higher in each of the past two months. Tennessee's jobless rate has been below 4 percent since last summer. Last month, the seasonally adjusted employment total in Tennessee fell by 2,000 jobs, but the jobless rate remained near its historic lows of last fall.
"To have a six month stretch of such low unemployment is great for Tennesseans," said Burns Phillips, Tennessee's commissioner of labor and workforce development.
Statewide, Tennessee listed 153,020 job openings at Career centers across the Volunteer State Thursday, which is more than the 106,900 persons counted as unemployed but still looking for work in the state last month.
"Tennessee's economy continues to grow and should be helped this year, at least to some degree, by the new tax changes," University of Tennessee Economist Bill Fox said. "But as unemployment has fallen to this very low levels, it is harder to sustain the same pace of job growth so we're not seeing as big of an increase in employment in the business surveys that we saw earlier in the recovery."
The improving economy continued to grow the average workweek for manufacturing employees in Tennessee, rising from an average of 42.9 hours in November to an average workweek of 43.7 hours last month.
Factory wages in Tennessee were up an average of 18 cents an hour last month, but the average manufacturing wage rate of $19.78 in Tennessee during December was still 6.7 percent below the U.S. average of $21.20 per hour.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 423-757-6340.
This story was updated Jan. 18, 2018, at 11:14 p.m. with more information.