Unemployment in Chattanooga fell last month to 4.3%, just 1% above the level it reached in the economic recovery before the coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses in mid-March.

That level was more than two percentage points below the national unemployment rate in November and more than nine points lower than the pandemic high the city hit in April.

"Help wanted" signs at restaurants and other venues are as a frequent as Georgia senatorial television commercials these days. Jobs are available, depending on what people want or are willing to take.

That's good news.

All the sectors of the economy, though, haven't recovered. Some people have the savings and the time and are willing to take it to find the right job.

For others, including those the previous recovery never quite reached, it's a different story. Even in good times, an abrupt change in circumstances can result in a downward spiral, like a pilot unable to control a plummeting jet.

A medical bill — sometimes even when a patient has good insurance — will do that. The patient is unable to come up with money to pay off her bill. Even though she may work out a payment plan with the hospital, decisions have to be made. How will she feed her children? Should she buy food or the medicine she needs? And if her HVAC system suddenly breaks down, there's no money for needed repairs.

It's just a hop, skip and a jump to the power being turned off, to home foreclosure, to losing her children.

In some cases, a little help can go a long way. That's where the Chattanooga Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund can come in.

More than a century old, the annual holiday fund is managed by the United Way of Greater Chattanooga. The organization, through its partner agencies, distributes funds to people referred for assistance in areas such as housing, utilities and food.

Recipients are typically required to be employed or have some form of income to receive help from the fund, which offers a one-time boost to help get over a financial hump.

For a number of those who receive help, the assistance is all that is needed for life to right itself, for that crucial bill to be paid, for that one month to be behind them. Then life can return to normal, or at least to a sense where the individual no longer thinks they're treading water and nearly drowning.

For many people in Chattanooga and Hamilton County, as evidenced by the low unemployment numbers, the global pandemic did not significantly affect their household finances or did so for only a short time.

In fact, in a Times Free Press survey of voters going to the polls in November, 52.4% of respondents said the coronavirus had not negatively affected their personal finances/job.

We imagine many of those who haven't been affected have wondered about ways in which they could help those who have been affected, but didn't know how.

The Neediest Cases is a way to do that, but time is running out.

In the booming economy that closed out 2019, Neediest Cases funds totaled $46,569.86, 11.3% above the total of the previous year. This year, with much more need in evidence, the funds fortunately are up. Indeed, as of Sunday, they were more than $55,500, an increase of more than 19%.

Donations are accepted only through the end of December.

If you've been more fortunate than others in a year we'd all like to forget, consider helping those who haven't been.

(Checks may be sent to United Way of Greater Chattanooga, 630 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402. Information should include the amount of the donation, the name, address, city, state and ZIP code of the donor, and whether donors wish to make their contributions in honor or in memory of someone.)

(Donate online to the Neediest Cases Fund here)

Other Ways to Donate

Note: Under the CARES Act, taxpayers who don't itemize deductions may take a deduction of up to $300 for cash contributions made in 2020 to charitable organizations.

Send the following information and a check to United Way of Greater Chattanooga. Please note that the donation is for Neediest Cases and mail to United Way, 630 Market St., Chattanooga, TN 37402.
Enclosed is a donation for $
Donor Acknowledgement options:
In honor of:
In memory of:

All donations will be acknowledged by mail and in the newspaper. Please state if you do not want us to publish a name in the list of contributors. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 31.