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Photo by Dave Flessner / The Scooter's coffee franchise moving into Chattanooga is looking to hire workers to staff the new drive-through shop on Shallowford Road

Unemployment fell last month in Tennessee to its lowest level in eight months as businesses continued to rebound from the shutdowns this spring caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Tennessee employers added 2,100 net new jobs during November to help reduce the state's unemployment rate from 7.3% in October to only 5.3% last month. Tennessee's unemployment rate was below both the comparable U.S. jobless rate, which declined last month by only 0.2% to 6.7%, and the jobless rate in neighboring Georgia, which rose 1.2 percentage points during November to 5.7%.

From its record peak of 15% in April, Tennessee's jobless rate has dropped by nearly 65% this year.

Total employment in retail trade in Tennessee last month was actually up by 3,300 jobs from a year ago and smaller job gains were recorded in some finance and transportation and finance jobs over the past year, even with the pandemic.

But the virus has devastated the restaurant and hospitality industry where employment last month was down by 35,500 from a year ago. Jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation fields are still down by 24.3% from levels of a year ago, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"While the economy is improving, it will probably be until mid 2022 before the labor market fully recovers," said Larry Kessler, research associate professor at the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee.

Georgia's jobless rate had dropped even more than in Tennessee until last month when an influx of workers into the labor market exceeded the growth in jobs during November. Despite the pandemic, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said the workforce in the Peach State reached a record high last month of 5.17 million.

Jobless in November

* 5.3% - Unemployment rate in Tennessee, down from 7.3% in October

* 5.7% - Unemployment rate in Georgia, up from 4.5% in October

* 6.7% - Unemployment nationwide, down from 6.9% in October

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

 

"November is yet another month where we witness the resilience of Georgia's economy," Butler said. "While many may focus on the unemployment rate increasing, what is more important is the increases in jobs and employment."

In November, the number of employed Georgians was up 12,759 to reach a total of 4,872,633. Since April, Georgia has added back 592,709 jobs, although total employment in the state is still 123,400 below a year ago.

"The fact that our labor force is at an all-time high in the midst of a crippling pandemic is pretty remarkable, " Butler said. "The unemployment rate will fluctuate, but we will continue to centralize our efforts on keeping our economy stable and filling the thousands of jobs available."

Despite the gain in jobs in both Tennessee and Georgia last month, weekly jobless claims last week continued to rise in both states and across the country.

New claims for assistance from unemployed Tennesseans rose last week to the highest level in seven weeks. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that initial claims last week rose to 7,464, up from 6,886 in the previous week.

Since mid March, 946,775 claims have been filed for unemployment assistance — more than the total amount that sought such aid through the Great Recession in all of 2008 and 2009. Last week, the state paid just over $36 million to 92,773 unemployed Tennesseans or $388 in weekly benefits for the average recipient.

Nationwide, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose again last week to 885,000, the highest weekly total since September, as a resurgence of coronavirus cases threatens the economy's recovery from its springtime collapse.

"U.S. weekly jobless claims continue to head in the wrong direction," Edward Moya, an analyst at the currency trading firm OANDA, wrote in a research note. "The labor market outlook is bleak as the winter wave of the virus is going to lead to more shutdowns."

Before the coronavirus erupted in March, weekly jobless claims had typically numbered only about 225,000. The far-higher current pace reflects an employment market under stress and diminished job security for many.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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

 

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