Chattanooga jobless rate edges lower and remains below state and U.S. average

Employers boost local payrolls despite closing of a half dozen plants so far this year

File photo / A Kmart department store sign reads "Now Hiring." Despite the shutdown of six area plants so far in 2023, Chattanooga's jobless rate declined to 3.3% in September and remains below the state and national average unemployment rates.
File photo / A Kmart department store sign reads "Now Hiring." Despite the shutdown of six area plants so far in 2023, Chattanooga's jobless rate declined to 3.3% in September and remains below the state and national average unemployment rates.

Despite plant closings so far this year at a half dozen area businesses, unemployment in metropolitan Chattanooga declined again last month and remained below both the state and national averages for unemployment in September.

Chattanooga area employers boosted payrolls by a net 4,061 jobs over the past 12 months, including more than 800 new jobs added last month, to trim Chattanooga's jobless rate to 3.3% in September, according to the monthly jobs report released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate in the six-county metro Chattanooga area last month was three tenths of a percentage point below the comparable U.S. rate and was within seven tenths of a percentage point of the record low for unemployment reached in April when Chattanooga's jobless rate dropped to a mere 2.6%.

Tennessee career centers Thursday were advertising 240,810 open jobs across Tennessee, or nearly 2.1 jobs for every Tennessean counted as unemployed and still looking for work last month.

"This very tight labor market means that we have many more job openings than we have unemployed people," Donald Bruce, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee, said in an email. "While this means that workers have more power and have enjoyed strong earnings growth, it also brings greater pressure on employers to automate as much as possible or reclassify positions to allow for greater flexibility. Tennessee's employers are clearly facing considerable challenges when it comes to filling available positions."

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From now until 2030, more than 10,000 baby boomers will hit retirement age every day, requiring many employers to keep hiring even when their staff sizes are stable or even declining, Bruce said.

Chattanooga's jobless rate has dropped by more than three fourths since it peaked at 13.6% in April 2020 in the midst of the pandemic slowdown.

But as interest rates rise, the pace of new hiring could slow in coming months. Already in 2023, Eureka Foundry, National Seating & Mobility, and Volkswagen suppliers ThyssenKrupp and Grupo Antolina have closed their plants in Chattanooga. Beiersdorf Manufacturing also shut down its plant in Cleveland while Shaw Industries closed its mill in Decatur, Tennessee, according to WARN notices filed with the state.

T-Mobile is cutting 127 jobs next week at its Chattanooga call center and the RubberMaid Yarn Mill said it plans to close its Cleveland facility by the end of the year, cutting 81 jobs.

So far, however, unemployment remains muted in most area counties with 93 of Tennessee's 95 counties recording unemployment rates below 5% in September.

Bledsoe County continued to have the highest jobless rate of any county in Tennessee last month with 5.4% of its workforce unable to find a job, up from the 5.2% jobless rate in August. Neighboring Meigs and Grundy counties also were among the 10 counties in Tennessee with the highest unemployment rates last month.

To the south in Northwest Georgia, unemployment fell again in most counties and was near record lows in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties where the jobless rate was below 3% in each county during September.

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Georgia Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson said unemployment fell in most areas of the state last month after employers in Georgia added a net 57,673 more jobs in the past 12 months.

"Georgia reigns as the ultimate destination for business and economic opportunity," Thompson said in a report Thursday. "However, with recent workforce reductions at Geico, Yellow Freight and other companies throughout the state, we need to be cognizant of the financial pressures creating some instability within our existing business community. In today's ever-shifting global market, we must remain vigilant and lead with innovation."

Jobless in September

In the 19-county Chattanooga region of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, unemployment rose last month in 10 counties, declined in seven counties and was unchanged in two others.

— Dade: 2.7%, down from 3.3% in August.

— Catoosa: 2.8%, down from 3.3% in August.

— Walker: 2.9%, down from 3.6% in August.

— Gordon: 3%, down from 3.6% in August.

— Hamilton: 3.4%, up from 3.3% in August.

— Coffee: 3.6%, up from 3.3% in August.

— Bradley: 3.7%, up from 3.6% in August.

— Chattooga: 3.7%, down from 4.4% in August.

— Whitfield: 3.8%, down from 4.4% in August.

— Franklin: 3.9%, up from 3.6% in August.

— Polk: 3.9%, down from 4% in August.

— Sequatchie: 4.1%, up from 3.9% in August.

— Rhea: 4.3%, unchanged from August.

— Marion: 4.3%, up from 4% in August.

— Murray: 4.3%, down from 4.8% in August.

— McMinn: 4.3%, up from 4.2% in August.

— Grundy: 4.5%, up from 4.2% in August.

— Van Buren: 4.5%, unchanged from August.

— Meigs: 4.9%, up from 4.4% in August.

— Bledsoe: 5.4%, up from 5.2% in August.

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

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



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