Despite recession fears, employers continue hiring and keep Tennessee, Georgia jobless rate near historic lows

Photo by Dave Flessner / Despite growing concerns of a looming recession, many employers are still hiring workers, including Hardee's restaurants in the Chattanooga area.

Despite growing recession worries by most company owners, employers across Tennessee and Georgia continued to hire more workers last month and kept unemployment at or near historic lows in both states during September.

The jobless rate remained at 2.8% in Georgia last month, the lowest level in modern history, after Georgia employers added nearly 13,000 more workers during September. In Tennessee, employers added a net 13,700 jobs last month to keep the unemployment rate at 3.4% -- only two tenths of a percentage point below the all-time low rate of 3.2% reached this spring.

With the continued demand for workers to fill vacant jobs and retailers staffing up for the holidays, economists expect unemployment to remain low for at least the rest of this year.

"What we see right now is an economy that is still expanding because of the strength of the labor market," University of Georgia economist Jeff Humphreys said in a telephone interview. "The Federal Reserve is trying to slow things down in a very aggressive way and ultimately I think they will be successful and I expect a recession to begin in the second quarter of next year."

But Humphreys, who is director of the Selig Center for Economic Growth in Athens, Georgia, predicts the economic downturn will be one of the shortest in modern history and unemployment in Georgia will remain at or below 4% and may not reach that cyclical peak until late 2023 or early 2024.

Both Tennessee and Georgia maintained lower unemployment last month than the U.S. rate of 3.5% and Humphreys said announced economic expansions in both states will likely keep jobless rates in Tennessee and Georgia below the national jobless level next year.

After capturing a record $13 billion of new business investment in 2021, Tennessee's chief economic recruiter, Stuart McWhorter, told the Times Free Press recently that business prospects remain strong this year.

"Last year was a spectacular year for Tennessee, but we're not seeing any slowdown this year," McWhorter. commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said in an August interview.

Humphreys said he expects the growing auto industry in Tennessee and Georgia to fare better than in most recessions because of the pent up demand for cars and trucks. The average vehicle on the road is 12.2 years old and many car buyers are waiting to new car supplies to become more available and for prices to potentially moderate as a result, Humphreys said.

"There should be a strong demand for vehicles even with a slower economy," he said.

As interest-sensitive industries shrink from the Fed's moves to tighten its monetary policy, employment could still increase in sectors that have struggled to find workers, including healthcare, hospitality and education, Humphreys said.

"We are continuing to see strong job creation and demand for workers," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said in a report Thursday. "We are seeing some of the best economic opportunities for job seekers that we have seen in years."

Tennessee career centers on Thursday were listing 362,961 available jobs across the state. There are over 178,000 jobs listed online at EmployGeorgia.com, resulting in approximately 235,000 unfilled positions.

There were more than three open jobs for each worker counted as unemployed and looking for work in Tennessee, although the skills demands for the available jobs don't always match the skills of those who are unemployed.

Amid the tight labor market, workers are getting bigger raises but not enough to keep pace with the 6.6% inflation rate of the past year, Humphreys said.

The average manufacturing wage in Tennessee rose in September to $22.32 an hour in Tennessee, but that was still 11.7% below the U.S. average hourly pay of $25.29 for manufacturing employees, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow on Twitter at @Dflessner1

Jobless in September

* 2.8% in Georgia, unchanged from August

* 3.4% in Tennessee, unchanged from August

* 3.5 % in the U.S., down from 3.7% in August

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