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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Robert Hensley gets his paperwork organized during a job fair put on by EPIC Talent Solutions last year.

Unemployment in the Chattanooga area fell last month to the lowest rate for September rate in modern history as local employers added 7,556 jobs over the past year.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said the jobless rate in metropolitan Chattanooga during September fell by four tenths of a percentage point to 3%. That was the lowest unemployment rate for September in the past three decades that the state has kept similar job reports, and the second lowest monthly rate in the past two decades. Only April's 2.8% unemployment rate was lower this year, according to state employment reports.

Preliminary job figures indicate employment grew in metro Chattanooga by more than 2.7% in the past 12 months, or nearly double the U.S. growth rate.

"We're essentially at a full employment economy where anyone who wants to work and has basic skills can find a job," said Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "We are seeing a slower rate of growth in jobs this year across Tennessee, driven by demographic changes not a slow economy. I don't anticipate the jobless rate to go much lower, but we expect the economy to continue to expand and add more jobs going forth, especially in some of our higher growth areas like Chattanooga and Cleveland."

Jobless in September

Unemployment fell in September, compared with the previous month, in nearly all counties in the Chattanooga region:

* Catoosa County, Ga. - 2.6%, down 0.6%

* Dade County, Ga., - 2.8%, down 0.9%

* Walker County, Ga. - 2.8%, down 0.7%

* Hamilton County - 3.1%, down 0.2%

* Coffee County - 3.1%, down 0.2%

* Franklin County - 3.2%, down 0.1%

* Bradley County - 3.4%, down 0.3%

* Chattooga County, Ga. - 3.4%, down 0.6%

* McMinn County - 3.5%, down 0.3%

* Whitfield County, Ga. - 3.5%, down 0.7%

* Polk County - 3.8%, down 0.5%

* Meigs County - 3.8%, down 0.5%

* Grundy County - 3.8%, unchanged

* Van Buren County - 3.8%, down 0.5%

* Sequatchie County - 4.1%, down 0.2%

* Marion County - 4.1%, down 0.3%

* Murray County, Ga. - 4.4%, down 0.4%

* Bledsoe County - 4.6%, down from 0.3%

* Rhea County - 5.0% , down 0.4%

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

 

Tennessee Career Centers on Friday were listing 209,609 job openings, or nearly twice as many jobs as the 105,102 Tennesseans counted as unemployed and still looking for work last month.

Holiday hiring by retailers, shippers and transport companies this month and next are likely to cut the non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate even lower during the fourth quarter.

"Numbers like these are proof that we need to keep up our community's focus on building a robust talent pipeline – at the school district level and in partnership with our area colleges and universities," said Charles Wood, vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Wood said the BlueCross Technology Academy, announced at Soddy Daisy High School early this fall with a $250,000 investment from the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, is an example of what is needed to provide students with high-demand skills. Another such BlueCross Technology Academy was launched at Red Bank High School in May.

In the near term, the labor market could get even tighter as retailers prepare for the busy holiday shopping season. Target is hiring more than 130,000 seasonal workers and will host hiring events at every store, including hiring events from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. next Friday and Saturday. Amazon has over 30,000 jobs to fill and last month held job fairs in six cities, including Nashville. UPS expects to hire about 100,000 seasonal employees to support the anticipated annual increase in package volume that begins next month.

Filling all those jobs may be harder this year with the jobless rate nationwide at a half century low.

In metro Chattanooga last month, unemployment was lowest in the three Northwest Georgia counties in the 6-county metropolitan statistical area. The jobless rate was lowest in the region in Catoosa County and the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell in 18 of the 19 counties in the region and was unchanged in the other.

In September, unemployment rates also were down in 90 of Tennessee's 95 counties, including 12 of the state's 15 distressed counties, according to new data released by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"While it is never good to have unemployment increase in even one county, it is encouraging to see unemployment showing signs of progress in many of the state's distressed counties," Tennessee Labor Commissioner Jeff McCord said.

Bledsoe County, which has had one of the state's highest jobless rates over the past decade and is one of Tennessee's 15 economically distressed counties, reported a drop in the unemployment rate of three tenths of a percentage points to 4.6% last month — the 8th highest among the state's 95 counties.

Unemployment in the region was the highest in Rhea County at 5% — the fourth highest rate among all counties in the state.

Once again, in September, Williamson and Sevier counties claim the lowest unemployment rates Tennessee. Both counties recorded a rate of 2.3 percent, which is 0.2 of a percentage point lower than their August rates.

Clay County recorded the state's highest unemployment in September. But the county's rate of 5.6 percent represents a 0.4 of a percentage point drop when compared to the August rate.

In Georgia, unemployment also continued to fall and four metro areas in the state set all-time records for the lowest jobless rate.

In metro Dalton, the unemployment rate decreased 0.6% in September to 3.7 %. A year ago, the rate was 4.4 %.

"September was a really remarkable month in our local communities," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. "It's good to see most of our communities around the state performing so well."

Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped 0.2 percentage points in September to 3.5 percent. The nation also grew its labor force, increased the number of employed residents and added more than 130,000 jobs.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflesner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340

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