Tennessee jobless rate steady at record low 3.3 percent in January

State adds jobs at nearly twice the rate of the U.S. in past 12 months

FILE - In this April 22, 2015, file photo, a recruiter, left, shakes hands with a job seeker during a National Career Fairs job fair in Chicago. On Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, the U.S. Labor Department reports on the number of people who applied for unemployment benefits the week before. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

Tennessee began the new year with its lowest jobless rate in modern history as the Volunteer State continued to add jobs nearly twice as fast as the national average.

Unemployment in the Volunteer State remained at an historic low of 3.3 percent in January, according to figures released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Tennessee's jobless rate was well below the 4.1 percent rate for the U.S. as a whole in January and was unchanged from the state's revised 3.3 percent rate that has held steady since last September.

"Tennessee's economy continues to grow at a faster pace than the U.S. average and we expect to see continued growth in the economy this year," said Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee.

Employment grew in the past year across Tennessee by 2.7 percent, or nearly twice the U.S. growth pace of 1.5 percent, according to household surveys by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Tennessee employers added 81,900 jobs over the past 12 months to grow the state's employment total to more than 3.1 million.

"To have this long stretch of low unemployment in Tennessee is a true testament to the economic climate in the state," Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said in a statement. "Many employers continue to tap into Tennessee's talented workforce, and Tennessee will lead in job creation by continuing to focus on workforce development."

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Tennessee in January was 1.2 percent lower than the rate for the same month one year ago. Tennessee's statewide unemployment rate has been below 4 percent since last May.

Despite the relatively low jobless rate, manufacturing wages in Tennessee have been largely flat over the past 12 months, rising from an hourly rate of $19.46 in January 2017 by only 22 cents an hour to an $19.68 an hour average in January 2018.

With a slightly shorter average workweek at the start of 2018 compared with a year earlier, average weekly paychecks in January 2018 for factory workers in Tennessee were down by $8.34 from the same time a year earlier.

"Wage growth has been surprisingly limited given the relatively low unemployment rate," Fox said. "We continue to expect that wages will increase at a faster rate as unemployment remains so low, but we haven't seen much of that wage inflation as yet."

The Department of Labor is scheduled to release the U.S. jobless rate for February at 8:30 a.m. today.

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