Jobless rate plunges to 6.1 percent
by RICK NORTON Associate Editor
Feb 02, 2014 | 1037 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Buoyed by a strengthening retail sector that continued to hire well into December, Bradley County’s unemployment rate continued to plunge before coming to a year-end rest at 6.1 percent.

Not only does the mark land Bradley in a two-way tie with Macon County for the 13th lowest jobless figure in Tennessee, it also represents the smallest local tally in years.

In November, the local rate stood at 6.4 percent which was the lowest Bradley County mark in five years. A three-tenths of a point drop in December means the local jobless figure has not descended to these kind of lows since 2008, and possibly earlier.

That’s the good news, and it’s a “good, solid” report for Bradley County, according to Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

However, the dark side of the employment update could be looming once the January numbers have been released. That’s because part-time jobs created by retailers for the holiday rush will have fizzled and many area residents will return to the unemployment rolls.

It’s a seasonal trend, Green explained. December is traditionally the lowest unemployment rate of the year — because of part-time retail hiring — but the January rate normally will rise as holiday jobs begin to fade.

“January’s rate will go up, but how much we never know,” Green said. “Those who were hired part-time [in November and December] will probably be laid off. And that will have an adverse effect on the rate.”

The hope among economists and labor market analysts is that some jobs will be retained, a decision among employers that is often linked to the viability of the regional economy and product demand. In Bradley County, the jobless rate hike from December to January normally hits about 1 percent or slightly higher.

In December, Bradley County reported a total labor force of 48,920. Of this number, 45,920 had jobs, leaving a workless balance of 3,000.

Bradley County’s mark fell far below the state rate of 7.8 percent and the national figure of 6.7.

The Bradley tally was easily the lowest in Southeast Tennessee and among its immediate neighbors. Even larger Hamilton County reported a mark of 7.3 percent, which remained unchanged from November.

Among Bradley County’s other immediate neighbors, McMinn County showed a mark of 8.2 percent, down from 8.3; Meigs reported 8.8, down from 8.9; Monroe was 9.4, down from 9.7; Polk netted 9.3, which rose from 8.9; and Rhea tallied 10.1 percent, down from 10.3.

Bradley’s year-ending mark of 6.1 was also better than December 2012 which landed at 6.5.

Locally, retail trade shared the spotlight for hiring with temporary services; however, Green pointed out these two were probably interconnected.

“[In some cases] temporary services may have been hiring for retail trade jobs,” he said. “One [sector] probably helps the other.”

A small employment gain came in local government, a sector that includes public school systems.

“It was just a small increase, nothing significant,” Green noted.

As expected for this time of year, job losses were reported in two sectors tied directly to warmer, and drier, weather. Losses were reported in both construction and tourism (which includes hotels, motels and restaurants).

“The only other industry where we had a decline [in jobs] was manufacturing,” Green said. “But, it was a very small decline. It was well within our normal month-to-month fluctuations. [What this means] is nobody is closing down or having large layoffs that we know of. It’s just a normal fluctuation.”

Statewide, the jobless rate decreased in 51 counties, increased in 29 and remained the same in 15.

Of Tennessee’s 95 counties, a rate of less than 5 percent was reported in one county; 70 saw jobless figures ranging from 5 to 9.9 percent; and 24 reported marks of 10 percent or higher.

The state’s lowest unemployment rates were reported in Williamson County, 4.8 percent; Lincoln, 5.1; Wilson, 5.2; Rutherford, 5.3; Cheatham and Sumner, 5.5; Robertson and Cannon, 5.6; and Davidson and Knox, 5.7.

The state’s highest jobless figures came in Scott County, 15.6 percent; Lauderdale, 12.2; Pickett, 12.1; Gibson, 11.3; McNairy, 11.2; Haywood, 11; Carroll and Hardeman, 10.9; and Lawrence and Wayne, 10.6.

Green said the state department is still awaiting action by Congress to determine if unemployment benefits are to be extended for American workers whose assistance ended in late December. If they are extended, another decision to be made is whether they will be retroactive to the end of 2013. Either action could impact the local, state and national rates — and potentially in either direction.

Locally, Green said Bradley County continues to provide a brighter employment picture than most in Southeast Tennessee.

“[The fact that] Bradley County beat both the state and national numbers is a good indicator,” he stated. “To me, this is a very strong, very positive picture for Bradley County as we go forward.”