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Unemployment in the Chattanooga area fell to the lowest level in seven months at the end of 2018 as local employers added a net 3,425 in the 6-county metro area last year.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that unemployment fell in metro Chattanooga during December by another tenth of a percentage point to 3.1 percent — the lowest level since April. Over the past 12 months, employment grew in metro Chattanooga by 1.3 percent to a record 262,590 jobs. The pace of job growth in 2018 was less than half the growth rate in 2017, however.

In Southeast Tennessee, the jobless rate was lowest in Hamilton County at 2.9 percent and highest in Bledsoe County at 5.4 percent. Unemployment edged even higher in Northwest Georgia in Murray County, where unemployment jumped a full percentage point last month to 5.5 percent.

Acr0ss Tennessee, 76 counties saw a decrease in unemployment in December; the rate remained unchanged in three counties, and 16 counties experienced an uptick in their jobless numbers.

"To finish 2018 with low unemployment in so many counties shows just how strong Tennessee's economy is as we start the new year," Gov. Bill Lee said today in his first employment report since he was sworn into office last week. "Much of our state continues to benefit from a business climate that encourages growth, which in turn leads to new jobs."

The Nashville suburb of Williamson County continued to have the state's lowest unemployment during the final month of 2018 with a rate of 2.1 percent.

While the majority of Tennessee's counties did see a drop in unemployment in December, many rural counties continue to work to attract new employment opportunities and training resources for their residents.

Hancock County had the state's highest unemployment rate at 5.7 percent, which increased by 1.1 percent from November's figure.

"We continue to work in Tennessee's rural counties to help our neighbors find a pathway to in-demand careers," said Dr. Jeff McCord, the state's new labor commissioner. "In Hancock County, we've partnered with the Department of Economic and Community Development, the area's TCAT and the local school district to bring technical training classes to the community, so residents don't have to travel to Morristown to learn a new trade."

Tennessee's December unemployment rate remained at 3.6 percent for the second consecutive month, while Georgia's seasonally adjusted rate edged up a tenth of a percent, also to 3.6 percent. Nationally, the United States' unemployment rate saw an uptick to 3.9 percent, which was 0.2 of a percentage point higher than in November.

"Georgia had a very good year economically speaking in 2018," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. "As I look back over the year, our state added to its workforce, employed more residents and increased jobs."

In metro Dalton, employers added a net 1,151 jobs during 2018. But Dalton's jobless rate still rose in December by 0.8 percent to end the year at 5 percent — the highest rate among the 14 metro areas in Georgia, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

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

Jobless in December

Unemployment declines in most Chattanooga area counties in December, compared with November:

* Franklin, Tenn., 2.8 percent, down 0.4 percent

* Hamilton, Tenn., 2.9 percent, down 0.2 percent

* Bradley, Tenn., 2.9 percent, down 0.4 percent

* Coffee, Tenn., 2.9 percent, down 0.4 percent

* Catoosa, Ga., 3.3 percent, up 0.5 percent

* Polk, Tenn., 3.5 percent, down 0.3 percent

* McMinn, Tenn., 3.6 percent, down 0.3 percent

* Dade, Ga., 3.6 percent, up 0.5 percent

* Sequatchie, Tenn., 3.7 percent, down 0.3 percent

* Grundy, Tenn., 3.7 percent, down 0.4 percent

* Walker, Ga., 3.7 percent, up 0.5 percent

* Marion, Tenn., 4.0 percent, down 0.2 percent

* Meigs, Tenn., 4.1 percent, down 0.2 percent

* Van Buren, Tenn., 4.1 percent, down 0.4 percent

* Chattooga, Ga., 4.3 percent, down 0.3 percent

* Whitfield, Ga., 4.8 percent, up 0.7 percent

* Rhea, Tenn., 5.1 percent, up 0.5 percent

* Bledsoe, Tenn., 5.4 percent, up 0.2 percent

* Murray, Ga., 5.5 percent, up 1.0 percent

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

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