Unemployment edges higher in the Chattanooga area but remains near historic lows

Staff photo by Olivia Ross  / A "help wanted" sign is seen posted in the window of Giorgio Mens Warehouse as a USPS worker walks in with packages on Feb. 21.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / A "help wanted" sign is seen posted in the window of Giorgio Mens Warehouse as a USPS worker walks in with packages on Feb. 21.

Unemployment edged up last month across the Chattanooga area, but local employers continued to add jobs as the economy slowed but continued to grow, according to new job figures compiled by state labor agencies in Tennessee and Georgia.

The jobless rate in the six-county Chattanooga metro area rose to 3.5% in October, but that was still below the comparable U.S. unemployment rate of 3.6% in October. During the past 12 months, Chattanooga employers added a net 3,982 more jobs, while employers in the neighboring Cleveland metro area added 1,214 jobs, and Dalton employers added 1,054 more jobs.

Jobless in October

The non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose last month in most counties around Chattanooga.

— Dade: 2.8% up from 2.7% in September.

— Catoosa: 2.9%, up from 2.8% in September.

— Walker: 3.1%, up from 2.9% in September.

— Hamilton: 3.6%, up from 3.4% in September.

— Chattooga: 3.7%, unchanged from September.

— Bradley: 3.8%, up from 3.7% in September.

— Whitfield: 3.8%, unchanged from September.

— Polk: 4%, up from 3.9% in September.

— Sequatchie: 4.2%, up from 4.1% in September.

— Franklin: 4.2%, up from 3.9% in September.

— Marion: 4.4%, up from 4.3% in September.

— Coffee: 4.4%, up from from 3.6% in September.

— Murray: 4.4%, up from 4.3% in September.

— McMinn: 4.5%, up from 4.3 in September.

— Rhea: 4.5%, up from 4.3% in September.

— Meigs: 5.4%, up from 4.9% in September.

— Bledsoe: 5.5%, up from 5.3% in September.

— Grundy: 5.6% up from 4.5% in September.

— Van Buren: 6%, up from 4.5% in September.

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

"Tennessee's labor market continues to show signs of stability and strength, although these latest numbers suggest that a long-awaited slowdown in growth is underway," said Don Bruce, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "Growth is still positive, but at slightly slower rates than we saw over the summer and early fall."

In an emailed statement, Bruce said the drop in job growth "is a necessary component of the Federal Reserve's efforts to use monetary policy to slow down the strong macroeconomy, and we have been waiting for these labor market indicators to show some signs of that policy's effectiveness."

"We continue to expect strong economic growth in the coming quarters, with Tennessee continuing to outpace the national economy," Bruce said.

(READ MORE: Jobless claims drop in October)

In Georgia, state Labor Commissioner Bruce Thompson said Georgia's jobless rate remains below the national average, "but businesses face growing pressure, including finding and retaining top-tier talent."

"As we attract diverse companies across the state, we must remain focused on developing the skills needed to meet critical workforce demands without reallocating talent between industries," Thompson said.

In the past year, eight businesses in Southeast Tennessee have either closed or made major layoffs, collectively eliminating more than 1,000 job in the region, according to WARN notices filed with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Eureka Foundry, National Seating & Mobility, and Volkswagen suppliers ThyssenKrupp and Grupo Antolina have closed their plants in Chattanooga. Beiersdorf Manufacturing also shut down its plant in Cleveland while Shaw Industries closed its mill in Decatur, Tennessee, according to WARN notices.

T-Mobile cut 127 jobs last month at its Chattanooga call center and the RubberMaid Yarn Mill said it plans to close its Cleveland facility by the end of the year, cutting 81 jobs.

While unemployment in most of the region remained at historically low levels, four counties in Southeast Tennessee — Meigs, Bledsoe, Grundy and Van Buren — each had jobless rates above 5% and ranked among the 10 worst counties for jobs among Tennessee's 95 counties last month.

For all of Tennessee, unemployment was the lowest in Moore County at 2.6% last month and was the highest during October in Perry County with a 7.9% jobless rate.

Contact Dave Flessner at [email protected] or 423-757-6340.

  photo  Don Bruce

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