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Despite a year-end dip in the number of workers on the job, unemployment in Tennessee and Georgia remained below the U.S. average in December after employers in the two states added more than 170,000 jobs during all of 2018.

The Tennessee jobless rate held steady at 3.6 percent last month while Georgia's rate edge up a tenth of a percentage point to 3.6 percent. Employment rose last year to record highs in both states and their December rate was below the U.S. jobless rate of 3.7 percent in December.

Jobless in December

› 3.6 percent in Tennessee, unchanged from November

› 3.6 percent in Georgia, up 0.1 percent from November

› 3.7 percent nationwide, up 0.5 percent from November

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

Even with the decline in jobs during the last month of 2018, year-to-year statistics showed Tennessee employers created 59,100 new positions across the state. In Georgia, the number of employed residents declined by 3,015 in December, but employment in the state in the past year was still up nearly 114,00 jobs.

"It's really something to see Tennessee employers add that many jobs in just one year's time," Tennessee Labor Commissioner Burns Phillips said in a report on the employment numbers Thursday. "The number of new jobs clearly shows Tennessee is one of the top states in the nation for business growth and development."

Employment grew in Tennessee by 2 percent in the past 12 months and the average hourly pay for manufacturing workers in Tennessee increased in December to $20.26. Tennessee's hourly pay still averaged 7.5 percent less than the U.S. average of $21.91 an hour for manufacturing workers, but the Volunteer State added a net 6,100 manufacturing jobs in 2018 as the economic recovery enters its ninth year of sustained growth this year.

Georgia's unemployment rate, which had fallen steadily for the previous eight months, edged up slightly in December. But the year-end jobless rate of 3.6 percent was well below the 4.5 percent rate in the Peach state a year earlier.

"This has been a great year for Georgia," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. "We exceeded everyone's expectations. I'm confident that 2019 will be another great year. We'll continue to improve and set records."

The January jobs report is likely to show an increase in unemployment due to both seasonal factors and the shutdown of the federal government, which has left nearly 1 million federal workers without work or without a paycheck while they are ordered to continue to work without pay.

But barring a prolonged shutdown, University of Tennessee Economist Bill Fox projects the economy will continue to grow this year at about a 2.4 percent pace, keeping unemployment near historic lows.

"Our employment growth in Tennessee has pretty consistently been a bit better than the U.S. as a whole and we think the economy will continue to grow and add jobs in 2019," Fox said. "The next time we get the data we're going to see employment affected by the government shut down since many of the federal workers will be counted as unemployment in January. We'll get a bit an aberration in next month's report, but we still think the economy will grow this year, albeit at a slower pace."

The tight labor market itself could act as another restraint on growth, however. On Monday, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development advertised 169,113 available jobs at its Career Centers across the state, or nearly 1.7 openings for each of the estimated 98,500 unemployed Tennesseans who were looking for work and counted in the labor force last month.

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

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