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Unemployment fell last month in Tennessee and Georgia to the lowest level in more than three years, although the decline in Tennessee was as much from fewer people looking for work in April as it was to an improving job market.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that the jobless rate in April fell in the Volunteer State to 7.8 percent, the lowest Tennessee rate since before Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008.
In Georgia, the jobless rate dipped in April to 8.9 percent, the first time in more than three years the rate has dropped below 9 percent.
"We now have the lowest unemployment rate, the fewest unemployed workers, and the most jobs in Georgia in more than three years," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Thursday in announcing the new employment figures. "Our job market continues to improve at a modest and steady rate."
Tennessee's jobless rate was below both the national and Georgia rate last month. But the employment gains have been slower in Tennessee in recent months.
Over the past year, employment grew by 11,000 jobs across Tennessee, or 0.4 percent, to cut unemployment in the state from 9.4 percent in April 2011 to 7.8 percent last month.
During April, however, the labor force in Tennessee declined by 4,000 jobs which accounted for the 0.1 percent decline in unemployment last month.
"While Tennessee's unemployment rate has declined for nine consecutive months, April's decrease is mostly attributable to a shrinking labor force," said Karla Davis, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University, said he expects the economy to continue to improve this year, albeit at a more tepid pace than most recoveries.
"A lower unemployment rate is always better than a higher rate, but there appear to be a lot of demographic and other reasons for this recent decline in the labor force," he said. "Many more young people are going to college now and are not a part of the workforce."
Tennessee should outperform the U.S. average this year, Penn said.
"I think we're in a good position in Tennessee because of our above-average concentration in the automotive industry, which seems to be coming back strong," he said.
In the past year, the fastest growth in jobs in Tennessee came in construction, up 5.3 percent, and manufacturing, up 2.8 percent. In Georgia, however, construction employment in the past year declined another 5.5 percent while manufacturing grew a modest 0.6 percent.