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Photo by Dave Flessner / Panara Bread on Market Street in downtown Chattanooga, like most restaurants, is seeking to hire more workers and is boosting pay as unemployment rates and labor force participation levels decline.

Unemployment dropped to an all-time low in Georgia last month while Tennessee's jobless rate during October fell to its lowest level since before the pandemic hit 19 months ago.

According to job figures released Thursday, the unemployment rate across Georgia declined by two-tenths of a percentage point during October to 3.1%, the lowest rate since tracking began.

Tennessee's jobless rate also declined by two-tenths of a percentage point last month to 4.2% — the lowest since March 2020.

Unemployment in both states was well below the U.S. jobless rate of 4.6%.

"We've seen a remarkably strong recovery over the past year and a half, and we expect unemployment rates will get even lower," said Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee.

But employment and labor force participation in both Tennessee and Georgia is not yet back to pre-pandemic levels. Tennessee employers added 80,700 jobs over the past year but the number of people working or seeking a job in Tennessee last month was still down by a seasonally adjusted 2.5%. During the pandemic and the changes it brought in the workplace, a record number of people quit or retired from their jobs, Fox said.

The share of adults in the workforce declined in Tennessee last month to 60.1%, down from 62.3% a year earlier.

"Even with more jobs available and more activity coming out of this pandemic, many Tennesseans have decided to retire or stay out of the workplace to care for children or other reasons," Fox said.

The record-low unemployment rate in Georgia also reflects a smaller labor force of available workers in the Peach State compared with before COVID-19 shut down much of the economy.

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Photo by Dave Flessner / Chili's is among dozens of area restaurants trying to hire more workers to staff up for the holidays.

"We have seen continuous job growth this year as we have gained back 90% of the jobs lost during the pandemic," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. "The continual increase in employment opportunity, particularly in those areas hardest hit by the pandemic, reinforces the critical need for encouraging available Georgians back into the workforce."

The non-seasonally adjusted jobless rates were even lower in both Tennessee and Georgia as many employers traditionally try to staff up for the holidays. But with more open jobs than job seekers, employers are scrambling to fill many vacancies.

"We put up our hiring sign a couple of weeks ago and are yet to have any applicants," said Jeff Crawford, who opened a new barbecue restaurant known as Mimi's Que on Hixson Pike last month.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development on Thursday listed 436,017 job openings of all kinds across the state. That is equal to nearly 3.8 jobs for each of the 116,084 Tennesseans who were unemployed last month, although the jobs don't necessarily match the skill sets or wage needs of those who are unemployed.

To help local employers find workers, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce created a website and program known as Chattanooga Calling, which lists 23,449 available jobs in Chattanooga.

With jobs available, the number of Americans who were laid off and are still getting unemployment benefits dropped last week to the lowest level since before the pandemic hit the economy early last year.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell for the seventh straight week to a pandemic low of 268,000.

The number of unemployment claims in all programs as of Oct. 30 was 3.18 million. One year prior, it was 20.8 million.

"Employers having difficulty finding workers are holding on tight to their current rosters, as evidenced by the consistent declines in new unemployment claim filings," said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for Bankrate.com. "With 10.4 million open jobs and the highest number of job quits ever, workers have more sway than in recent memory to negotiate pay and hours."

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

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Photo by Dave Flessner / As restaurants compete for workers, Hair of the Dog pub is among many restaurants trying to hire cooks.
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