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Photo by Dave Flessner / The convenience store chain Weigel's is hiring up to 80 employees to staff two new stores it plans to open this spring as it enters the Chattanooga market. The job additions come amid one of the highest labor markets ever in Chattanooga.

Unemployment in the Chattanooga area fell to its lowest level so far this year after employers hired 6,775 more workers in the past year in metropolitan Chattanooga, according to employment figures released Thursday.

The non-seasonally-adjusted jobless rate in the six-county Chattanooga metro area fell below 3% for the first time since the end of last year and was only a tenth of a percent below the all-time low reached in November and December. Nationwide, the number of new jobless claims filed last week fell to the lowest level in more than 50 years.

"For now, despite no shortage of headwinds, layoffs are akin to an endangered species," Mark Hamrick, a senior economic analyst for Bankrate.com, said in a statement Thursday on the U.S. employment market. "This strength is a boon for workers and something of a headache for employers."

Hiring signs continue to sprout like spring flowers outside of most area restaurants. On Thursday, the local job listing website ChattanoogaCalling.com listed 33,746 jobs in the Chattanooga area, or more than four times as many job openings as the 7,975 people counted as unemployed in metro Chattanooga last month.

"We're in a full employment economy," said Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "But I do think that the Fed's tightening of monetary policy and some of the global supply chain problems from the war in Ukraine will slow the rate of economic growth this year well below the very strong 5.7% rate we saw last year,"

Jobless in March

* Dade, Georgia, 2.6%, unchanged from February

* Catoosa, Georgia, 2.7%, down 2.9% in February

* Franklin, 2.8%, down from 3% in February

* Walker, Georgia, 2.9%, down from 3% in February

* Hamilton, 2.9%, down from 3.3% in February

* Marion, 2.9%, down from 3.4% in February

* Coffee, 2.9%, down from 3.1% in February

* Bradley, 3.0%, down from 3.6% in February

* Polk, 3.2%, down 3.4% in February

* McMinn, 3.3%, down from 3.6% in February

* Rhea, 3.4%, down from 3.6% in February

* Sequatchie, 3.4%, down from 4.1% in February

* Whitfield, Georgia, 3.5%, up from 3.4% in February

* Meigs, 3.6%, down from 4% in February

* Murray, 3.7%, down from 3.9% in February

* Van Buren, 3.8%, down from 4% in February

* Chattooga, Georgia, 4.1%, up from 4% in February

* Grundy, 4%, unchanged from February

* Bledsoe, 4.4%, down from 4.7% in February

Sources: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Georgia Department of Labor

Across the Chattanooga region, unemployment was the lowest in March in Dade County, Georgia, at 2.6%, and highest in Bledsoe County at 4.4%. Among the 19 counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia in and around Chattanooga, unemployment fell last month in all but two counties. Statewide, the jobless rate fell during March in 92 of Tennessee's 95 counties.

Tennessee now has 93 counties with unemployment rates below 5%, compared to 90 counties in February.

The county jobless figures are not seasonally adjusted. But the statewide employment numbers released last week which are adjusted for seasonal influences showed that a record number of people are on the job in both Tennessee and Georgia and the statewide unemployment rates were near or at historic lows in March.

Nationwide, jobless claims fell by 2,000 to 184,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. About 1.42 million Americans were collecting traditional unemployment benefits in the week of April 9, the fewest since February 21, 1970.

Last year, employers added a record 6.7 million jobs, and they've added an average of 560,000 more each month so far in 2022.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340. Follow him on Twitter @dflessner1.

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Photo by Dave Flessner / The Sonic Drive-in in East Brainerd is among dozens of restaurants seeking to hire more workers in one of the tightest labor markets ever in Chattanooga.
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