Tennessee, Georgia unemployment rates rise in October

Staff Photo by Dave Flessner / Despite an uptick in unemployment across Tennessee and Georgia last month, employers like the Buffalo Wings restaurant on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga, seen Thursday, continue to hire more workers to fill job vacancies.

Unemployment across Tennessee and Georgia remained near historic lows again last month, but the red-hot job market appears to be leveling off with jobless rates in both states edging higher during October as the pace of hiring slowed.

The Georgia Department of Labor reported a 10th of a percentage point increase in the state's unemployment rate during October to 2.9% -- the first monthly increase in the Peach State since joblessness rose to an all-time record high of 12.3% at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tennessee's unemployment rate last month also rose by a 10th of a percentage point, hitting 3.5% in October, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

But during the past year, Tennessee employers have added 123,200 more employees, and Georgia has added another 204,000 jobs.

"The pace of some hiring may be a bit slower, but overall Tennessee is still adding jobs, and the labor market remains strong," Don Bruce, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, said in a phone interview. "These numbers certainly don't indicate we're heading into a recession, at least at this point."

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Unemployment in both Tennessee and Georgia was below the U.S. rate of 3.7%, and many employers are still hiring more workers as the traditionally busy holiday shopping season is getting started.

In October, businesses reported 5,800 new nonfarm jobs across Tennessee. The largest increases came in the accommodation and food services sector, the construction sector and the professional, scientific and technical services sector.

"We are still setting records in multiple sectors, highlighting the current favorable hiring environment for Georgians," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in a statement Thursday.

Butler said chances of finding a job remain good despite "some isolated layoff events."

On Thursday, Tennessee career centers were advertising 387,492 job openings, which is more than three times the 115,497 Tennesseans counted as unemployed and looking for work during October.

The local online jobs service Chattanooga Calling, sponsored by the local chamber of commerce, listed 3,263 available jobs in the Chattanooga area.

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Tennessee has had unemployment rates at or below 3.5% since January, and last month's jobless rate was down 0.2 of a percentage point from the 3.7% rate in October 2021.

From the peak rate of 15.5% reached in Tennessee at the worst of the pandemic slowdown in April 2020, unemployment has been cut by more than 75%.

In the tight labor market, wages continue to increase, Bruce said. Last month, the average hourly wage paid to manufacturing workers in Tennessee increased another 22 cents an hour to a record high $22.57 per hour.

But factory wages in Tennessee still averaged 11% less than the U.S. average rate of $25.37 per hour, according to figures compiled by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Nationwide, the Labor Department reported Thursday that applications for new jobless claims for the week ending Nov. 12 fell by 4,000 to 222,000 from 226,000 the previous week. American employers added a healthy 261,000 jobs in October, according to the Labor Department's most recent data.

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But some technology companies are cutting staff. On Wednesday, Amazon announced it has begun mass layoffs in its corporate ranks, becoming the latest tech company to trim its workforce amid rising fears about the wider economic environment. Facebook parent Meta said last week it was laying off 11,000 people, about 13% of its workforce, amid slumping revenue and broader tech industry woes. Twitter laid off about half of its 7,500-person staff after Elon Musk took control of the company last week.

"The clock has struck midnight in terms of hyper-growth for Big Tech," Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives told the Associated Press. "These companies hired at such an eye-popping rate, it was not sustainable. Now there's some painful steps ahead."

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Jobless in October

— 2.9% in Georgia, up from record low 2.8% the previous three months.

— 3.5% in Tennessee, up from 3.4% in September and August.

— 3.7% in the U.S., up from 3.5% in September.

Sources: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Georgia Department of Labor

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @DFlessner1.