In two months — January and February, normally the coldest time of the year and traditionally the driest for the job market — the Bradley County jobless figure tilted upward by only three-tenths of 1 percent, a trend considered to be a “pleasant surprise” by state employment officials.
Tennessee’s rate for February was 6.9 and the national mark was 6.7 percent.
The Bradley County tally places it as the 14th lowest unemployment rate among the state’s 95 counties.
“Overall, it was a normal fluctuation,” according to Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “Bradley County’s rate was lower than the state, national, Hamilton County and all other counties in [Southeast Tennessee].”
Green projects the rate will remain much the same for March, and could even improve slightly if seasonal hiring picks up in the construction and tourism (called “Leisure and Hospitality) industries. Tourism includes hotels, motels, rental car businesses and restaurants.
Green remained optimistic about Bradley County’s employment picture because of its favorable comparison to this time last year. In February 2013, the jobless mark stood at 8 percent.
Bradley County’s slight rise in unemployment in February came due to small declines in construction, manufacturing, retail trade and temporary services. However, none was substantial. Given the slow time of year for hiring — when jobless rates normally increase substantially — Bradley County’s 6.4 is considered a good step heading into the spring and summer seasons.
“There were no large fluctuations in any industry, or major layoffs,” Green said.
And on another positive note, he pointed to small hiring increases in Private Education & Health Services (private schools and nursing homes) and in Leisure and Hospitality.
A few other jobless rates among Bradley County’s neighbors in February included Hamilton County, 6.9, down from 7.1 in January; Marion, 9.4, which stayed the same; McMinn, 8.2, up from 7.9; Meigs, 9.2, down from 9.3; Monroe, 9.5, up from 9.4; Polk, 10, up from 9.8; and Rhea, 9.7, down from 9.9.
Statewide, jobless rates in February dropped in 21 counties, rose in 61 and remained unchanged in 13. For the month, one county (Williamson) recorded a jobless figure of less than 5 percent; 64 counties ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent; and 30 recorded marks of 10 percent or higher. No county reported a rate of 20 percent or greater.
The state’s lowest jobless figures came in Williamson County, 4.7 percent; Lincoln and Rutherford, 5.3; Moore, 5.5; Davidson, Wilson and Sumner, 5.6; Knox and Cannon, 5.7; and Cheatham, 5.9.
The state’s highest rates came in Scott County, 15.8 percent; Pickett, 14.4; Lauderdale, 12.2; Wayne, 11.5; McNairy and Stewart, 11.4; Gibson, 11.2; Van Buren and Cocke, 11.1; and Sevier, 11.
Bradley County’s jobless figure for February was based on a total labor force of 48,480. Of this number, 45,360 reported having jobs and 3,110 did not. These numbers do not break out those who might be working, but are underemployed — either because they are working part time or because they cannot find jobs in their fields and are settling for lower-paying work.
The numbers also don’t take into consideration “frustrated workers,” those who have left the workforce because they are unable to find jobs in their careers. In these cases, workers are not included in lists either for those with jobs or those without.
In an upbeat report a couple of weeks ago for January, Green said Bradley County’s jobless figure of 6.2 percent was a “pleasant surprise” because traditionally the transition from December to January calls for rates to rise — sometimes by large amounts — because of the number of retail workers hired temporarily for the holiday season who are being laid off after the first of the year.
“... In Bradley County, there wasn’t a great deal of layoffs in retail trade,” Green said earlier of the January mark.
The labor market analyst pointed to the importance of February and March in showing whether the local mark will remain lower than last year’s.
“We’ll just have to watch and see how that goes,” he pointed out then.
To quote a familiar adage, “... So far, so good.”