The local mark represented a three-tenths of 1 percent increase from 6.8 percent which had been the lowest jobless tally in four years.
But Bradley wasn’t alone. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, unemployment rose in 93 counties, leaving only Macon and Warren counties with positive numbers for the retail-friendly Christmas season.
While not a phenomenon, such an increase can normally be linked to seasonal sags in the construction industry.
In Bradley County’s case, the answer apparently lies in neighboring communities and not the local job market, according to Larry Green, labor market analyst with the state department who monitors the local jurisdiction’s jobless picture.
“Looking at the data for December, this is one of those months where employment actually went up by 340 in Bradley County, but we also saw unemployment going up by 210,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to make sense, but this happens from time to time.”
The scenario sounds complicated, but it’s actually simple.
“Normally, the reason for unemployment to rise [under these conditions when local hiring has picked up] is because there have been layoffs in surrounding counties,” Green explained. “They [workers] live in Bradley County, but work in surrounding counties and they file their unemployment in Bradley County. That makes unemployment in Bradley County go up.”
For those still scratching their heads in confusion, especially with the ongoing rise in local economic development, Green pointed out, “Employment still went up in Bradley County, but the fact that unemployment [claims from out-of-town workers] went up as much as it did meant the local rate went up to 7.1 percent.”
He added, “It’s not necessarily a reflection of anything bad going on in Bradley County. Locally, the only two industries that lost [employment] numbers were construction and manufacturing, and both of these were down just a little bit.”
Although they declined, their losses were offset by increased hiring in retail trade and temporary staffing, Green cited. A small gain was also surprisingly noted in the leisure and hospitality industry which refers to tourism. This category includes hotels and restaurants, both of which continue to expand in Cleveland. In the past few months, two new hotels have opened — the Holiday Inn Express and the Hampton Inn. New restaurants, several of them national chains, continue to dot the city’s culinary landscape.
Green pointed to new and coming developments like Publix Supermarkets, LongHorn Steakhouse, Wacker Polysilicon North America, the Bradley Square 12 theater, Hardee’s and the new Whirlpool Cleveland Division manufacturing plant and distribution center as being bright spots on the local jobs horizon. Others are expected to follow.
In spite of the small surge in joblessness, Bradley County’s numbers remain the strength of Southeast Tennessee. December’s local mark even eclipsed Hamilton County’s rate of 7.2 which increased from 6.4 percent in November. Because of its metropolitan size, the Chattanooga and Hamilton County mark is normally the smallest of the region.
Bradley County’s 7.1 figure shared the 18th lowest spot out of 95 counties in Tennessee with Putnam County.
Jobless rates for a few additional Bradley County neighbors include Marion County, 8.3, up from 7.7; McMinn, 9, up from 8.3; Meigs, 9.9, up from 9; Monroe, 9.9, up from 9.1; Polk, 10.7, up from 8.9; and Rhea, 10.2, up from 9.1.
The Cleveland area mark compares favorably to the state’s 7.6 and the national tally of 7.8. Both Tennessee and U.S. totals remained unchanged from November.
Across the state in December, unemployment ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 63 counties and 10 percent or higher in 32. No counties reported jobless marks less than 5 percent nor higher than 20.
For the month, Tennessee’s lowest rates were found in Williamson County, 5 percent; Lincoln, 5.3; Knox, 5.7; Rutherford, 5.8; Cannon, 5.9; Sumner and Wilson, 6; and Davidson, Blount and Loudon counties, 6.2.
The state’s highest marks came in Scott County, 16.8; Obion and Lauderdale, 13.1; Pickett, 12.7; Perry, 11.8; Dyer and Weakley, 11.6; Gibson, 11.3; and Carroll and Haywood counties, 11.2.
Although Bradley County’s numbers remained strong as 2012 came to a close, they’re expected to rise in January as part-time and temporary staffing jobs in retail begin their seasonal fizzle.
“Normally, January’s rate is higher than December,” Green said. “Plus, weather factors often keep construction hiring down. Unless we see hiring in manufacturing or temporary [staffing] agencies, then the January rate usually goes up. It’s seasonal and not indicative of a trend by any means.”
It happened last year. The rate in December 2011 rose from 7.3 percent to 8.2 in January 2012.
“This year we could be in that same area,” Green said of Bradley County. “It is a reasonable assumption that it’ll go up by about a point.”