Chattanooga area employers added jobs over the past year at more than twice the rate of the U.S. as a whole, creating a net new 9,287 jobs in the 12 months ended in January, according to new state figures.
But pay raises for most Tennessee workers didn't improve much in the past year and the non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate still moved higher in January from the record lows reached at the end of 2017.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that unemployment in metropolitan Chattanooga rose in January by 0.6 percentage points to 3.9 percent — the highest monthly rate since last March. Chattanooga's unemployment rate in January remained below the U.S. rate but higher than the statewide jobless level.
The non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose in most Southeast Tennessee counties in January
› Hamilton County, 3.6 percent, up 0.6 percent from the previous month
› Coffee County, 3.6 percent, up 0.6 percent from the previous month
› Bradley County, 3.7 percent, up 0.9 percent from the previous month
› Franklin County, 3.6 percent, up 0.5 percent from the previous month
› McMinn County, 4.6 percent, up 0.8 percent from the previous month
› Sequatchie County, 4.8 percent, up 0.4 percent from the previous month
› Polk County, 4.9 percent, up 1.0 percent from the previous month
› Grundy County, 5.0 percent, up 0.8 percent from the previous month
› Meigs County, 5.1 percent, up 0.9 percent from the previous month
› Marion County, 5.2 percent, up 1.0 percent from the previous month
› Rhea County, 6.8 percent, up 1.2 percent from the previous month
Source: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development
Tennessee Labor Commissioner Burns Phillips said the rise in unemployment reflected primarily seasonal employment changes following the Christmas holidays when the retail and other jobs increase to yearly highs.
"Because of seasonal employment trends, Tennessee typically sees a slight uptick in county unemployment at the start of the year," Phillips said. "But the year-to-year comparison of statistics shows just how well the state is doing when it comes to job creation."
Employment grew in the six-county Chattanooga metropolitan area by 3.7 percent in the past 12 months, or more than double the 1.5 percent growth rate nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Among the 95 counties in Tennessee, unemployment in January was lowest in Williamson County at 2.5 percent and highest in Rhea and Houston counties at 6.8 percent.
Tennessee had a statewide seasonally unemployment rate of 3.3 percent in January, which was the sixth lowest in the nation. The national unemployment rate was 4.1 percent last month.
"We saw excellent job growth in Tennessee over the past year and we expect the economy to continue to grow in 2018," said Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "What has been perplexing to us is why we haven't seen the wage growth we would have expected with unemployment getting so low in much of the state."
A new study by Business Insider showed that Tennessee had the second lowest wage growth among the 50 states for all of 2017, rising just 0.5 percent last year.
Business Insider combined six measures of labor-market and general economic health for all the states and the District of Columbia to rate the economy of all 50 states. Tennessee was judged to have the eighth worst economy in the country, primarily because of lagging wages and wage growth even with below average unemployment.
Business Insider said Alaska had the worst economy, primarily because of its dependence upon oil and gas which has been hurt by lower fuel prices. The best state was Washington with the second highest average wage and the fourth best GDP growth last year.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.