Despite slowdown in Chattanooga job growth, local unemployment rate still below U.S. average

Despite slowdown in Chattanooga job growth, local unemployment rate still below U.S. average

March 14th, 2019 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

A sign leads job seekers to a job fair put on by EPIC Talent Solutions Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The next job fair will be held October 24.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Despite a slowdown in the pace of job growth in Chattanooga, the local unemployment rate at the start of 2019 remained below the U.S. average as Chattanooga area employers added 3,567 jobs over the past year.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday the jobless rate in metro Chattanooga rose to 3.7 percent during January from the 3.1 percent low reached in December. But unemployment in the six-county area remained well below the comparable non-seasonably adjusted U.S. rate of 4.4 percent in January.

Michelle Miskelly fills out job applications for administrative positions during a job fair put on by EPIC Talent Solutions Wednesday, August 22, 2018 at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Chattanooga, Tennessee. About 300 job seekers attended the event Wednesday.

Michelle Miskelly fills out job applications for administrative...

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Jobless in January

Unemployment rose from December to January in most counties in Southeast Tennessee:

› Franklin County, 3.2 percent, up 0.4 percent from December

› Coffee County, 3.3 percent, up 0.4 percent from December

› Bradley County, 3.7 percent, up 0.8 percent from December

› McMinn County, 4.1 percent, up 0.6 percent from December

› Grundy County, 4.2 percent, up 0.5 percent from December

› Polk County, 4.4 percent, up 0.9 percent from December

› Sequatchie County, 4.5 percent, up 0.7 percent from December

› Marion County, 4.7 percent, up 0.6 percent from December

› Van Buren County, 5.4 percent, up 1.3 percent from December

› Bledsoe County, 6.6 percent, up 1.2 percent from December

› Rhea County, 6.7 percent, up 1.6 percent from December

Source: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development

Metro Chattanooga started the year with lower unemployment than Memphis, Knoxville or the Tri-Cities in Tennessee. But Nashville continued to have the lowest jobless rate among major metro cities in the state with a jobless rate in January of only 2.8 percent.

Chattanooga's jobless rate was down 0.2 percent from a year ago and the statewide unemployment rate was down by 0.3 percent.

"Many counties did experience an uptick in unemployment in January," said Jeff McCord, commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development in Tennessee. "But when you look at a year-to-year comparison, the vast majority of Tennessee's counties had lower unemployment this year compared to January of last year."

Employment in the 6-county Chattanooga metro area grew by 1.4 percent in the past year, but that was less than half the 3.6 percent torrid pace of employment growth in the same 12-month period a year year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From its peak at 10.2 percent a decade ago, Chattanooga's jobless rate has fallen by nearly two thirds, BLS figures show.

Tennessee career centers currently list 180,944 job openings across the state, or 50 percent more than the 120,000 Tennesseans identified in January as unemployed and still looking for a job.

Werner Van Antwergen, vice president of operations at the staffing agency Schnellecke Logistics, said finding qualified workers in Chattanooga is proving harder as the unemployment rate hovers around the lowest level in a half century.

"Along with that good news for workers also comes some challenges for employers," Van Antwergen told Chattanooga's International Business Council last week. "You are always competing with somebody else for workers."

Williamson County had the lowest unemployment rate in the state during January at 2.4 percent. The jobless rate nearly doubled during January in Lake and Obion counties in the Northwest corner of Tennessee to 9.3 percent — one of the highest county rates in Tennessee in the past couple of years.

"The unemployment numbers in Lake and Obion counties have our attention," McCord said. "We are meeting next week with our workforce development partners from across the state and we will have an opportunity to talk about any particular issues in the Northwest area that may have contributed to this spike in unemployment."

In Southeast Tennessee, unemployment was highest in Rhea County, which had the fourth highest jobless rate among the state's 95 counties at 6.7 percent, and Bledsoe County, which ranked No. 5 for unemployment among all counties with a jobless rate of 6.6 percent.

In Southeast Tennessee, unemployment was lowest in January in Franklin County at 3.2 percent, followed by Hamilton County at 3.4 percent.

For the last four months, Tennessee's statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate has remained at its record low of 3.3 percent. Nationally, the January unemployment rate experienced a slight increase of 0.1 of a percentage point to 4.0 percent.

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


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