Slight gains in construction, manufacturing, retail trade and tourism failed to offset job losses in temporary staffing as Bradley County’s unemployment rate climbed to 7.8 percent in May.
Up four-tenths of 1 percent from April’s mark of 7.4, the small jobless hike pushed the local rate above last year’s level for the same month. In May 2012, the unemployment rate was 7.4.
The new jobless figure keeps Bradley County below the state rate of 8.3 percent, which rose from a flat 8 in April, but slightly above the U.S. mark of 7.6, which rose slightly from 7.5.
“Bradley County had more industries that increased in employment than those that went down,” according to Larry Green, labor market analyst who monitors the local jobs picture for the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.
But those that went down in jobs dragged the others with them.
The most notable drop in employment came in the Professional & Business Services sector which includes temporary staffing agencies. Green described staffing centers as “very volatile” because of the nature of the jobs.
“It [Professional & Business Services] doesn’t follow any particular trend,” he said. “It declined the most [in May].”
The P&BS industry includes CPA firms and tax agencies that hire workers temporarily from January through April. Once the busy tax season ends, most of the temporary staff are laid off.
One other employment decline was found in Education & Health Services which includes private education facilities and private health services like nursing homes. Although this industry went down in jobs, Green said the fall came within normal monthly fluctuations.
Although Professional & Business Services and Education & Health Services dropped, the fact that construction, manufacturing, retail trade and tourism (Leisure & Hospitality) rose is a good sign, Green explained. For much of the year he has been waiting for construction worker numbers to rise in alignment with the growing number of building permits recorded by the city of Cleveland and Bradley County.
“Bradley County has a unique situation where it is pretty well balanced between manufacturing and nonmanufacturing jobs ... to where if there was a layoff in either major sector, the other sector should be able to offset it,” Green explained.
Communities that rely exclusively on manufacturing are often the first to hurt the most, and the earliest, in times of economic downtowns, he said.
Bradley County has a strong manufacturing footprint, but it is equally as strong in nonmanufacturing sectors, Green added.
Although the local jobless mark rose in May, the 7.8 tally is still in a three-way tie with Coffee and Montgomery counties for the state’s 19th lowest unemployment rate. It also remains the strongest rate in Southeast Tennessee.
Even the much larger metropolitan area of Chattanooga and Hamilton County is being hit with a higher jobless mark of 8.2 percent, which is up from 7.6 in April.
Other local rates among Bradley County’s neighbors include McMinn County, 9.6 percent, up from 9.2; Marion, 9.4, up from 8.2; Meigs, 10.3, up from 9.9; Monroe, 11, up from 10.8; Polk, 8.9, up from 8.7; and Rhea, 11.9, up from 11.3.
Collectively, all of Bradley County’s neighbors saw a higher jobless rate, but they were in good company. Totaled, 82 of Tennessee’s 95 counties saw unemployment rate hikes. The mark dropped in eight counties and remained the same in five.
Across the state, 54 counties reported jobless figures ranging from 5 to 9.9 percent, and 41 saw double-digit marks of 10 percent or higher.
Tennessee’s lowest unemployment rates for May were found in Williamson County, 5.7 percent; Lincoln, 5.9; Blount, 6.5; Wilson, Sumner and Davidson, 6.7; Cheatham, Rutherford and Knox, 6.8; and Robertson, 7.1.
The state’s highest jobless rates were found in Scott County, 17 percent; Lauderdale, 14; Gibson, 12.6; Hancock, 12.3; Wayne, 12.1; Hardeman and Carroll, 12; and Perry, Lawrence and Rhea, 11.9 percent.
Green doesn’t make a habit of predicting future unemployment rates, but based on historic trends he doesn’t see the month of June making any rebounds in Bradley County. That’s because this is the month in which school system personnel who are not on a 12-month contract will be filing unemployment claims.
“Hopefully, we won’t be seeing much of a jump in June, [but] you never really know,” he said.
This is especially true when accounting for the impact of commuter claims; that is, workers who live in Bradley County but who drive to a job site in another county like Hamilton, McMinn, Polk or others. If these workers are laid off, they file for unemployment benefits in their home county. This impacts the Bradley County jobless rate and not the county where the laid-off worker was employed.
“A lot of times, we’ll see a small jump [in unemployment] in June, it will level out in July and then it will go down in August ... barring any unforeseen closures or major layoffs that we don’t have any hint of happening right now,” Green pointed out.
For the time being, Green said, neither Cleveland nor Bradley County should be impacted adversely by any significant layoffs. At least, his office is not aware of any looming in the short- or long-term picture.
“Bradley County as a whole, compared to everyone else, still looks strong,” he said. “I see no major trend at all toward a higher unemployment rate.”