Summer layoffs of nonteaching personnel by area school systems and private institutions is being fingered as the principal culprit in an upward tilt of Bradley County’s unemployment rate to 8.4 percent in June.
This is a seven-tenths of 1 percent rise from the May revised rate of 7.7.
The decline in employment in the Local Government sector — which includes the school systems — and in Education and Health Services, which picks up private schools and nursing homes, is being pegged as seasonal by Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
As bad as the news seems, it could have been worse. Although an untold number of school system workers left their non-contract positions for the summer, their loss from Bradley County employment rolls was partially offset by slight gains in construction, manufacturing, retail trade and tourism.
“We fully expected it and it’s not out of the ordinary at all to see the rate go up like it did [in June],” Green explained.
It happens each year, with the only uncertainty being whether other jobs sectors will be strong enough to help offset the drop, he said. In this case, slight gains in a handful of other industries kept the local jobless mark on the charts.
Even at 8.4 percent, Bradley County’s unemployment remained the 21st lowest of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Bordering counties, including the much larger metropolitan jurisdiction of Chattanooga and Hamilton County, weren’t so fortunate.
A few of Bradley County’s neighbors, and their rates for June, included Hamilton, 8.8 percent, up from 8.2 in May; McMinn, 9.9, up from 9.6; Meigs, 10.7, up from 10.2; Monroe, 11.6, up from 11.1; Marion, 9.9, up from 9.4; and Rhea, 12.8, up from 11.8. Polk County turned in strong numbers at 9 percent, representing only a slight increase from 8.8 in May. Green said Polk County is continuing to benefit from tourism thanks to its popular rafting season.
This Leisure and Hospitality category also benefits Bradley County because of the number of hotels and restaurants that see increased business during tourism’s summer months, Green pointed out.
Southeast Tennessee wasn’t alone in slight increases in jobless marks. Statewide, 91 counties witnessed a hike in joblessness and four stayed the same. No counties reported a decrease.
Across the state, the unemployment rate ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 47 counties, and 10 percent or higher in 48 counties.
“I’m always pleased when [Bradley County] comes in under Hamilton County ... because metropolitan areas will normally have lower unemployment rates than smaller counties,” Green said. “It’s always a positive sign [for Bradley County] when it is doing better than Hamilton.”
He added, “[Bradley County] had the lowest rate of any county that touches its borders, and that includes Hamilton. That’s just a sign that Bradley County is as strong or stronger economically, from an unemployment rate viewpoint, than any of the counties [in the Southeast Tennessee region].”
Although Bradley County “... is hanging right in there,” Green said this year’s June rate exceeds the same month last year when the jobless mark was 8.2 percent.
“[But] two-tenths of a point is not considered significant,” he added.
June’s national jobless rate was 7.6 which remained the same from May. The Tennessee rate was 8.5, up from 8.3 in May.
“On the whole, we did pretty much what you would expect for the month of June,” Green said. “Industries that were supposed to go down did go down. In July, you don’t see the big dropoff in the schools, [although] they won’t start adding back until August.”
In other words, barring any major, unexpected shifts in employment — whether it is a layoff or sudden hiring — the jobless mark in July should come in at about the same level, Green projected.
“I hope to see a slight decline in the rate by August,” which is when non-contract employees begin returning to their school system jobs, he noted.
“If seasonal trends continue, [Bradley County] should be alright,” Green said.
Statewide, counties with the lowest unemployment rates included Williamson County, 6.1 percent; Lincoln, 6.2; Wilson, 6.9; Sumner, 7; Davidson and Blount, 7.1; Rutherford, 7.2; Knox and Robertson, 7.3; and Cheatham, 7.4.
Counties with the highest jobless marks included Scott County, 18.1; Lauderdale and Hancock, 14.1; Gibson, 13.1; Van Buren, 12.9; Weakley and Rhea, 12.8; Lawrence and Carroll, 12.6; and Hardeman, 12.5.