September Unemployment

• Metropolitan Chattanooga, 8.7 percent, down 0.1 percent

• Metropolitan Cleveland, Tenn., 9.8 percent, unchanged

• Metropolitan Dalton, Ga., 12.5 percent, up 0.4 percent

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

Employers in metropolitan Chattanooga added more than 3,700 jobs over the past year, but the number of job applicants increased by nearly 5,500 to keep the local jobless rate above the year-ago level.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported Thursday that unemployment in metro Chattanooga last month was down 0.1 percent from the previous month at 8.7 percent. A year ago, Chattanooga's jobless rate was only 8.2 percent.

"I definitely think the job market is getting better in Chattanooga, but it's still very competitive to get hired," said Ben Howard, a 28-year-old unemployed electrician who was searching for a job Thursday at the Tennessee Career Center. "I've been laid off three times in the past three years, so I'm just trying to get a steadier job."

With more applicants than jobs, unemployed people without skills or who have a criminal record are having greater problems finding jobs.

"I've been looking for work every day, but when you have a [criminal] record it's hard to get a job," said Galen Allen, a 24-year-old Chattanoogan who got out of jail two weeks ago.

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said those looking for work need to be flexible in their job search.

"You are going to have to step up your game right now in terms of finding a job because employers can cherry pick and get the best of the best right now," Butler said. "It's a buyers' market, and I would strongly suggest that if you continue to have trouble searching for work that you might need to evaluate the skills that they have and maybe look at a career change or maybe even a relocation."

Some of those who may have to relocate could be in metropolitan Dalton, which continued to have the highest jobless rate last month among Georgia's 14 metropolitan areas. The Georgia Department of Labor reported that the jobless rate in the Dalton area in September rose to 12.5 percent as the metro area lost a net 539 jobs over the past year.

Unemployment in Hamilton County last month was unchanged at 8.6 percent, but that was still well below the comparable Tennessee rate in September of 9.6 percent or the U.S. rate of 9.1 percent. Across Tennessee, unemployment last month increased in 51 counties, decreased in 32 counties, and remained the same in 12 counties.