Dalton jobless rate falls as workforce shrinks

Former student Nathaniel Simmons operates a crane during a day of training at Georgia College of Construction in this Nov. 25, 2014, photo. The Labor Department releases weekly jobless claims on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014.

Georgia unemployment

The non-seasonally adjustment jobless rates were:* Catoosa County - 4.9 percent last month, down 0.4 percent* Dade County - 5.4 percent last month, down 0.6 percent* Walker County - 5.4 percent last month, down 0.7 percent* Georgia statewide - 6.7 percent last month, down 0.5 percent* Chattooga County - 7.2 percent last month, down 0.9 percent* Whitfield County - 8.1 percent last month, down 0.5 percent* Murray County - 9.0 percent last month, down 0.5 percentSource: Georgia Department of Labor

The improving economy is cutting unemployment even in Georgia's hardest hit metropolitan city -- Dalton, Ga.

But much of the drop in the jobless rate in the self-described "Carpet Capital of the World" is coming from workers moving elsewhere to find work rather than by just additions from local employers.

The Georgia Department of Labor said Friday that unemployment in metropolitan Dalton fell by another four-tenths of a percent in November to 8.4 percent -- the lowest rate since April. The number of Dalton area workers without jobs fell by 280 in November. New layoffs dropped by 172 in Dalton last month.

But those declines came along with a drop in the size of the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which compiles the data. The Dalton metro area, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, lost 200 jobs during November and overall employment in the area was 400 jobs less than a year ago. The number of persons in the Dalton workforce declined in November by 699 and fell over the past year by 1,536 workers.

While Georgia's statewide employment is growing by more than 2 percent a year -- the fifth fastest among all states -- Dalton is barely adding any jobs since the Great Recession ended four years ago. Although Dalton's jobless rate has plunged from a high of 13.4 percent in 2010, employment has remained relatively constant for the past four years following a plunge in employment in the Dalton metro area during the previous four years. The decline has come largely from a decrease in the number of persons looking for work.

Eight years ago in 2006 before the housing and real estate slump cut carpet sales nearly in half, metropolitan Dalton had nearly 80,000 persons on the job. Last month, BLS estimates 63,700 workers were on the job in Dalton, 20.9 percent below the peak in employment reached in 2006 in the Carpet Capital.

Carpet sales are coming back. But changing floorcovering tastes and new carpet technologies are limiting the appeal of carpet compared with hardwood floors and are allowing carpet manufacturers to make more rugs with fewer workers.

"As a whole, Georgia is showing above-average employment growth, but our unemployment remains above the national average because we are having to dig out of a bigger whole than most of the country," said Jeff Humphreys, director of the Simon Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia in Athens. "There are also parts of the state and parts of the economy that are recovering much more slowly."

Dalton had the highest jobless rate last month among Georgia's major metro areas at 8.4 percent. Athens at the lowest unemployment rate in November at 5 percent.

Georgia's seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for November was 7.2 percent, down from a revised 7.6 percent in October. The decrease was the largest over-the-month drop on record and large enough to move Georgia's jobless rate out of last place among all states.

While Dalton's unemployment rate remained above the statewide average, the jobless rates in other parts of Northwest Georgia was far lower. In the Chattanooga metropolitan area, the bedroom communities in Catoosa, Walker and Dade counties all reported jobless rates in November that were below other neighboring counties in the region and well below both the statewide and U.S. averages.

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