Tennessee jobless rate stays at 15-year low

Jobs and unemployment tile

Unemployment in Tennessee remained at a 15-year low and Georgia's jobless rate fell to the lowest level in nine years during May as employers in both states continued to hire workers at a faster pace than the nation as a whole.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday the statewide jobless rate in May was unchanged at 4.1 percent, which remained the lowest monthly unemployment rate in Tennessee since April 2001.

In neighboring Georgia, unemployment fell another two-tenths of a percent to 5.1 percent. The Georgia Department of Labor said that is the lowest jobless rate for the Peach State in eight and a half years.

"We're really seeing strong growth across almost every sector of the economy," said Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business at the University of Tennessee. "I think the picture remains very, very good for Tennessee, and we see economic growth continuing for the foreseeable future."

Over the past 12 months, employment grew by 123,200 jobs, or 2.9 percent, in Georgia, and by 66,800 jobs, or by 2.3 percent in Tennessee. Job growth in both states easily outpaced the national employment gain of 1.7 percent, even though the U.S. jobless rate of 4.9 percent in May was still slightly below the 5.1 percent rate in Georgia.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said employers in Georgia added 11,400 jobs last month alone to cut unemployment, even as the number of people seeking jobs continued to grow.

"We haven't seen unemployment this low in Georgia since the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007," Butler said. "We continue to outpace the national growth rate."

Construction employment in Georgia jumped by 7.3 percent in the past year, while manufacturing and health care jobs led the pace in Tennessee, growing at an annual rate of more than 3 percent over the past 12 months.

The job gains in Tennessee over the past year came entirely from the private sector, according to state employment figures. Total government jobs in Tennessee dipped by 2,400 jobs in the past year, while private-sector jobs grew by 69,200.

Over the past year, unemployment has declined from 5.7 percent to 4.1 percent in Tennessee and has dropped from 5.8 percent to 5.1 percent in Georgia.

Fox said Tennessee's above-average concentration in manufacturing, health care and logistics is helping the state outpace the U.S. economy in the current economic recovery. The one troubled spot for the economy - the depressed prices for energy - have been a net gain for Tennessee since the state produces very little of its own energy.

Among the 10 states in the Southeast, Georgia and Tennessee had the second and third biggest increases in hourly manufacturing wages in the past year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Factory wages in Georgia were up 5.4 percent and manufacturing wages were up 5.1 percent in Tennessee from May 2015 to May 2016.

Despite such gains, however, Georgia's $18.79-per-hour rate and Tennessee's $18.23 rate for manufacturing workers were still about 10 percent below the U.S. average manufacturing wage in May of $20.37 per hour.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.