DALTON, Ga. - Hoping to find a job to pay her mounting bills, Kim Chevalier walks or hitches a ride almost every day to the Georgia Career Center from her home about 13 miles away in Cohutta.
Because the 49-year-old former carpet mill supervisor quit one of her last jobs to care for her dying mother and left another when her payroll checks began to bounce, she doesn't qualify for unemployment benefits. Until this week, she also couldn't qualify for state training programs to help her get another job.
"When they say the unemployment rate has gotten better, they don't count people like me and there are a lot of people just like me who are still unemployed," she said after another fruitless job search earlier this week.
Chevalier had to give up her phone and computer and, with her car broken down, she sometimes walks more than two hours to the employment office to check for available jobs.
"I'm afraid by the end of the month I won't have a home," she said, her eyes swelling with tears. "It's really hard."
The lack of jobs showed up again in employment figures released Thursday in Tennessee and Georgia.
Among 18 counties in the Chattanooga region, unemployment rose in 11 and fell in only three. Although down from peak levels reached earlier this year, the jobless rate remained above 10 percent in 13 of the 18 counties in the Chattanooga region.
"There's been a lot of improvement since January and Tennessee's overall rate is now the same as the U.S. rate (9.6 percent) after being higher for years," said David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at the Middle Tennessee State University. "But it's probably going to be years before we get back to the 2007 levels."
Penn said if discouraged workers and those employed only part-time who want full-time jobs are considered, 17.5 percent of all Tennesseans are unemployed or underemployed.
opening more doors
With unemployment stuck at double-digit levels across Georgia, the state labor agency this week opened up its six-week Georgia Work$ training program to unemployed peoples such as Chevalier. Previously, only unemployment insurance claimants could get such training assistance, which helps prepare workers for available jobs and certify their readiness for work.
Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said he agreed to expand the program because of the state's share of the long-term unemployed, many of whom have exhausted their jobless benefits or quit previous jobs.
Georgia Work$ provides free training and up to $600 in stipends to offset transportation and child care expenses for unemployed people in Georgia.
The 10 percent jobless rate across all of Georgia in August was the 35th consecutive month in which the state's jobless rate was higher than the U.S. average.
The National Bureau of Economic Research said this week that the U.S. recession officially ended in June 2009. But labor experts expect jobless rates to remain at historically high levels through at least next year.
"Georgia's job market is stagnant and almost one-half of jobless Georgians have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer," Thurmond said. "Many employers are reluctant to hire because of the costs and risks associated with bringing on new employees."
In the six-county Chattanooga metropolitan area, unemployment edged up 0.2 percent in August to 8.8 percent. But Chattanooga's jobless rate was still well below the state and national averages last month.
Employment in metro Chattanooga was up by 7,260 jobs over the past year, cutting the jobless rate from 9.9 percent a year ago to 8.8 percent last month, according to state data released Thursday.
But unemployment in rural counties surrounding metro Chattanooga was above 10 percent in all areas.
The jobless rate in the Dalton area increased last month to 12 percent - the highest rate among Georgia's 14 metropolitan areas. Employment in metro Dalton is down by 1,200 jobs from a year ago, including the loss of 1,000 manufacturing jobs over the 12-month period, the Georgia Department of Labor reported.
Rickie Coulter, a 49-year-old unemployed carpet mill worker, is one of those manufacturing casualties.
"I remember when you could get a job at most any mill, but nobody seems to be hiring these days," he said after applying for jobless benefits this week.
Lynn Couch, a 52-year-old brick layer who lives in Murray County, Ga., said construction work also has been sparse this year. He hasn't worked in the past seven weeks.
"I've worked in this industry since I got out of the Navy in 1980, but I've never seen it this bad," he said. "I'm just hoping things get better soon."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or 423-757-6340.
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