Updated at 8:59 p.m. on Thursday, May 23, 2019, to clarify that the unemployment was not adjusted for seasonal factors.
Chattanooga high school and college students graduating or just getting out of school for the summer will enjoy the best job market for finding work in modern history.
As Hamilton County schools wrap up another school year this week, the state reported Thursday that unemployment in metro Chattanooga last month fell to an all-time low as the recovery from the Great Recession a decade ago enters its longest period of sustained growth in modern U.S. history this summer.
Jobless in April
The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell across Southeast Tennessee last month:
* Coffee, 2.6%, down 0.5%
* Franklin 2.6%, down 0.6%
* Hamilton, 2.6%, down 0.5%
* Bradley, 2.8%, down 0.6%
* McMinn, 3.1%, down 0.6%
* Polk, 3.1%, down 0.8%
* Sequatchie, 3.2%, down 0.7%
* Grundy, 3.3%, down 1.0%
* Marion, 3.5%, down 0.8%
* Van Buren, 3.5%, down 1.0%
* Meigs, 3.6%, down 0.7%
* Bledsoe, 4.1%, down 1.3%
* Rhea, 4.9%, down 0.8%
Source: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development
The jobless rate in the 6-county Chattanooga metro area dropped by 0.5 percentage points during April to 2.8% — the lowest monthly unemployment rate since comparable figures have been kept over the past four decades. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates Chattanooga area employers added a net 6,853 jobs over the past 12 months, reducing the jobless rate from 3.2 percent a year ago to 2.8 percent last month.
"The current unemployment rate is great news for job seekers and we continue to focus on developing strong education and industry partnerships to help increase the talent pipeline for area businesses," said Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
From its peak of 9.9 percent at the start of 2010, the jobless rate in metro Chattanooga has fallen to barely one fourth of the rate a decade ago. Employers in Chattanooga have added more than 36,500 new jobs since January 2010. By July, the economic recovery will be the longest period of sustained growth since before World War II, although the pace of that growth is slower than in previous recoveries.
"The economy continues to grow and, barring some unexpected event, we expect unemployment could actually go even lower," University of Tennessee Economist Bill Fox said last week.
A national survey of employers interested in hiring college graduates this spring found their hiring plans were up 10.7 percent from a year ago, according to the annual Job Outlook Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Despite the job gains, however, wage increases, adjusted for inflation have been more modest. In a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this week, the average weekly wage for workers in Hamilton County in the fourth quarter of last year was $1,026, which was down 1.3% from the previous year and 9.3% below the U.S. average wage of $1,144 in the fourth quarter.
"Chattanooga continues to see record unemployment, which is a great thing for our city," Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said Thursday. "It's important that we not only create more job opportunities for Chattanoogans but create jobs with good wages so everyone can prosper."
Unemployment was the lowest in the region last month in Coffee and Franklin counties at 2.6 percent and highest in Southeast Tennessee in Rhea County at 4.9 percent, according to the new state jobs figures. Among Tennessee's 95 counties, unemployment in April fell in all but Maury County and reached an all-time low of 1.9 percent in the Nashville suburb of Williamson County, the state's richest county.
"County unemployment rates continue to be extraordinarily positive," Tennessee Labor Commissioner Jeff McCord said in an announcement of the new jobless figures. "Across our state we are now seeing unemployment rates at or below 5 percent become the norm."
Statewide, the unemployment rate remains at an historic low of 3.2 percent, which is well below the U.S. average of 3.6 percent, not adjusted for seasonal factors.
Among the state's biggest metro areas, unemployment was lowest in April in Nashville at 2.2 percent and in Knoxville at 2.6 percent. Unemployment was highest in Tennessee's biggest cities last month in Memphis at 3.5 percent and in Martin at 3.4 percent.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 757-6340