Alan Schroader turns 40 years old next week and would like nothing better for his birthday than a full-time, permanent job..
"I'm looking for jobs that have the potential for growth," the unemployed former factory and retail clerk said during this week's job fair at the Walker County Civic Center. "And I'd like to be hired directly with the company, not through a temp agency. A lot of times a temp agency will just throw anybody in, just to fill the spot. It's not easy to get in."
Schroader is one of 19,420 Chattanooga area workers counted as unemployed last month by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. His struggle to find permanent work reflects the sputtering pace of the ragged recovery, economists say.
Although the jobless rate in metropolitan Chattanooga fell by a half percent during February to 7.5 percent, the local jobless rate was virtually unchanged from the 7.6 percent rate of a year ago.
"We're seeing some improvement, but it's still pretty slow," said Dr. David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University. "It does seem to be a bit stronger market than even a few months ago when it looked like the labor market was stalled."
Unemployment declined in February across Southeast Tennessee and Northeast Georgia and was below the U.S. average in most of metro Chattanooga. But just to the south in metro Dalton, Ga., and other rural counties around Chattanooga, the jobless rate remained well above the state and national averages. In five of the 18 counties in the region, unemployment remained above 10 percent in February.
"In general, the hot spots in Tennessee seem to be around Nashville and, to a lesser extend, around Knoxville," Penn said. "Those areas have stronger manufacturing and in-migration of residents."
Among Tennessee's four biggest metro areas, unemployment was lowest last month at 6.4 percent in Nashville and 6.7 percent in Knoxville and highest in Memphis, where the jobless rate was 9.3 percent.