Unemployment rate falls again in Tennessee, remains the same in Georgia

Tight labor market shows no signs of softening

Staff Photo by Dave Flessner / A McDonald's restaurant is seen earlier this month. McDonald's is among many local fast-food restaurants seeking to hire workers to fill vacant jobs.

Despite growing fears of an economic slowdown later this year, the employment market in Tennessee and Georgia showed few signs of softening last month.

Tennessee's jobless rate dropped in April for the second consecutive month to 2.6% — the lowest nonseasonally adjusted rate in history, according to figures released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Adjusted for seasonal fluctuations, the unemployment rate in the Volunteer State during April was 3.3%, still only a tenth of a percentage point above the all-time low reached last summer.

Employers across Tennessee added another 145,600 nonfarm jobs in the past year to boost the state's employment total to a record of nearly 3.3 million.

Georgia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 3.1% in April for the ninth month in a row, just slightly above the record low of 2.9% reached a year ago. The Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday that Georgia employers added 110,00 more jobs in the past year and the number of Georgia workers on the payroll hit an all-time high of 4.89 million.

Unemployment levels in both Tennessee and Georgia remained below the national average. The nationwide unemployment rate fell to 3.4% in April from 3.5% in March and 3.6% a year ago.

"This is yet more evidence that the state's economy continues to hum along quite well," Don Bruce, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, said in an emailed statement Thursday. "Nearly everyone who wants a job has one, and in many cases has a better one than before the pandemic."

The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that applications for jobless claims for the week ending May 13 fell by 22,000 to 242,000, from 264,000 the week before. The weekly claims numbers are broadly seen as representative of the number of U.S. layoffs.

Although down for the week, most economists still expect an uptick in layoffs in the second half of 2023.

  photo  Staff Photo by Dave Flessner / The Auto Zone store in Hixson is among the retail stores trying to hire more workers in a labor market with one of the lowest jobless rates on record. The store was photographed last week.

"We expect jobless claims will resume their upward trend as the economy weakens and enters a mild recession in the second half of the year, and as layoffs become more widespread," Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in a research note Thursday.

Overall, 1.8 million people were collecting unemployment benefits the week that ended April 29, about 8,000 fewer than the previous week.

Since the pandemic purge of millions of jobs three years ago, the U.S. economy has added jobs at a breakneck pace, and Americans have enjoyed unusual job security. That's despite interest rates that have been rising for more than a year and fears of a looming recession.

On Thursday, Tennessee career centers listed 361,719 open jobs across Tennessee, or more than three times the 104,829 Tennesseans counted as unemployed and still looking for work last month.

Mapco is among area employers seeking to hire more workers. The Nashville-based chain of convenience stores and gas stations is conducting a companywide hiring day on Saturday at all of its Mapco stores in the Chattanooga area, where a company spokesman said Thursday that Mapco is looking to fill 136 jobs.

Across all of its 800 stores in six states, Mapco has more than 800 jobs it would like to fill, a Mapco spokesperson said.

As the school year nears an end, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said employers have job openings ready and waiting through the Summer Youth Employment Program, which provides job opportunities for those age 14 through 24 years old. The eight-week summer youth program pays workers as much as $16 per hour.

Young people interested in participating in the program should visit TNWorkReady.com or their local American Job Center for more information.

Jobless in April

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rates last month were:

— 3.1% in Georgia, unchanged from the previous month

— 3.3% in Tennessee, down from 3.4% in March

— 3.4% in the U.S. as a whole, down from 3.5% in March

Sources: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Georgia Department of Labor and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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