After declining steadily for five months from the record high jobless rate reached in April, unemployment rose again in the Chattanooga area last month as an influx of workers looking for jobs outpaced the growth in employment.
The unemployment rate in the six-county Chattanooga region rose to 5.7% in October, up from 5.2% in September. Chattanooga area employers added 2,018 net new jobs last month, but the labor force in the region grew by even more, rising by 3,912 more workers as more people became confident enough to re-enter the job market amid the ongoing pandemic.
Chattanooga's jobless rate is still less than half the record high 13.3% reached in April after the coronavirus pandemic shut down many restaurants, stores and factories this spring. Chattanooga's jobless rate also remained below the non-seasonally adjusted U.S. unemployment rate of 6.6% and the statewide jobless rate of 7.2% during October across all of Tennessee.
"We're still seeing economic growth in Tennessee and this increase in unemployment came even though the number of jobs grew during the month," said Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "But the pandemic continues to create uncertainty and volatility and it's going to take some time to get back all of the jobs we have lost."
Most of the rural counties in Southeast Tennessee reported unemployment rates above the statewide average last month, including Bledsoe and Rhea counties which ranked among the 10 highest counties for unemployment in Tennessee among the state's 95 counties.
Only Davidson County in Nashville and Sevier County in Sevierville saw their jobless rates decline in October.
Jobless in October
Despite a drop in the U.S. unemployment rate in October to 6.6%, the non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate in Tennessee rose to 7.2% last month and the jobless rate rose in all counties in Southeast Tennessee.
* 6.1% in Franklin County, up from 4.9% in September
* 6.6% in Coffee County, up from 5.5% in September
* 6.7% in Hamilton County, up from 5.7% in September
* 6.7% in Bradley County, up from 5.4% in September
* 6.9% in McMinn County, up from 5.8% in September
* 7.3% in Polk County, up from 5.1% in September
* 7.4% in Marion County, up from 5.7% in September
* 7.8% in Sequatchie County, up from 5.8% in September
* 8.0% in Van Buren County, up from 6.4% in September
* 8.4% in Meigs County, up from 6.7% in September
* 8.5% in Grundy County, up from 6.4% in September
* 8.6% in Rhea County, up from 6.7% in September
* 9.0% in Bledsoe County, up from 5.9% in September
Source: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development
Williamson County outside of Nashville had the state's lowest unemployment in October with a rate of 4.6%, While Memphis' Shelby County recorded October's highest jobless rate in Tennessee at 11%.
Despite the higher jobless rate in 93 of the state's 95 counties, Tennessee's 80 career centers across the state have more than 240,000 open positions advertised for workers.
"Tennessee employers are ready to help the state's economy rebound by hiring individuals to meet their business needs," said Chris Cannon, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Initial filings for jobless benefits last week also dropped to the lowest level since March, although the 6,182 new claims filed across the state was still more than double the level of a year ago.
Nationwide, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits rose last week for a second straight week to 778,000, evidence that the U.S. economy and job market remain under strain as coronavirus cases surge and colder weather heighten the risks.
The spike in virus cases is intensifying pressure on companies and individuals, with fear growing that the economy could suffer a "double-dip" recession as states and cities reimpose restrictions on businesses.
"With infections continuing to rise at an elevated pace and curbs on business operations widening, layoffs are likely to pick up over coming weeks, said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. "Even as job growth is continuing, the labor market remains under stress and far from complete recovery.
The total number of people who are continuing to receive traditional state unemployment benefits dropped to 6.1 million from 6.4 million the previous week.
In Tennessee, unemployed persons were paid a total of $29.2 million in benefits last week, or less than 9% of the more than $330 million in weekly jobless benefits paid by the state in April during the worst of the downturn.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Dave Flessner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6340.