Employment in Hamilton County in 2022 grew at a pace nearly twice as fast as the national average and outpaced the growth rate of most of the major Tennessee counties, according to new government figures.
The number of workers on the job in Hamilton County in the fourth quarter of 2022 was up by 4.9% compared to the same period a year earlier, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, employment nationwide grew by 2.6% in the same period as measured by the bureau's quarterly census of employment and wages.
Chattanooga also outpaced Tennessee's relatively robust 3.8% statewide job growth in 2022, which placed the Volunteer State as the third fastest-growing state for its employment growth rate behind only top-ranked Nevada and No. 2 Texas.
"Over the past year or two, Tennessee has really led the nation in many ways in terms of economic growth, and this is just another data point that reflects the very strong economy that we're all enjoying right now, especially in markets like Chattanooga," Don Bruce, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
This past week, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported the nonseasonally adjusted unemployment rate in metropolitan Chattanooga fell to an all-time low of 2.6% in April.
In 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics quarterly census showed Hamilton County was the second-fastest growing county in the state for its employment growth rate, behind only Williamson County. The Nashville suburban county of Williamson is Tennessee's richest and fastest-growing county and boosted employment in 2022 by 5.4%, according to the bureau.
But Hamilton County was still the fastest-growing county among the state's four biggest counties.
"We're continuing to see strong economic growth here, and that is creating more opportunities for workers, along with with some challenges for employers and as a community as we try to respond to the growth in our area," Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said in an interview this past week.
Among the 355 largest U.S. counties, Hamilton County had the 12th-fastest growing rate of job additions in 2022, the bureau said.
Only 30 of the nation's biggest counties saw a decline in employment from the fourth quarter of 2021 to the fourth quarter of 2022.
Although jobs are more plentiful, worker pay isn't keeping pace with inflation overall, according to the bureau. Nationwide, the quarterly census of wages showed the average weekly wage declined by 2.3% from the fourth quarter of 2021 until the fourth quarter of 2022.
Inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index increased 7.7% from October 2021 to October 2022, according to the bureau.
In the final quarter of 2022, the average U.S. worker was paid $1,385 a week, or the equivalent of $72,020 per year.
Average worker pay declined, in part, because many of the new jobs added in the past year are in lower-paying occupations that were cut or limited during the pandemic, and some employees in 2022 worked fewer hours than the year before, Bruce said.
Hamilton County pay levels in the fourth quarter of 2022 averaged $1,291 a week, or $67,132 a year, which is 6.8% less than the national average. But unlike the decline in average pay nationwide in 2022, the average weekly paycheck for the typical Hamilton County worker in 2022 was up 0.9% from the previous year, according to the new bureau data.
JOB GROWTH IN TENNESSEE'S BIGGEST COUNTIES
1. Williamson, up 5.4% with average weekly pay of $1,619.
2. Hamilton, up 4.9% with an average weekly pay of $1,291.
3. Rutherford, up 4.3% with an average weekly pay of $1,153.
4. Davidson, up 4.1% with an average weekly pay of $1,558.
5. Knox, up 3.3% with an average weekly pay of $1,227.
6. Shelby, up 1.5% with an average weekly pay of $1,337.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, quarterly census of employment and wages. Midland, Texas had the largest over-the-year increase in employment with a gain of 7.9%.