By RICK NORTON
Blame it on the North Pole eggnog rebellion among disgruntled elves, or maybe Santa’s bag of goodies was already too full, but Bradley County has experienced a rare rise in unemployment during the …
Blame it on the North Pole eggnog rebellion among disgruntled elves, or maybe Santa’s bag of goodies was already too full, but Bradley County has experienced a rare rise in unemployment during the retail season.
For the month of November, the local jobless rate inched up to 3.1 percent, representing a three-tenths of 1 percent increase. October’s revised rate had landed at 2.8.
In spite of the surprising hike, albeit a small one — coming at a time when retailers were supposed to be beefing up their sales staffs — the Bradley mark still placed the community in a six-way tie for the state’s 17th lowest jobless figure.
According to Thursday’s monthly report from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Bradley shared the ranking with Blount, Cannon, Giles, Lincoln and Macon counties.
“It’s a bit out of the ordinary,” said Patrick Todd, statistical analyst supervisor for the state department.
Todd, who operates out of the Department of Labor’s office in Nashville, said over the past few years Bradley County has enjoyed slight declines in unemployment during the October to November transition. However, this year the story told a different tale.
The principal culprit was retail trade, whose hiring numbers Todd described as “flat.” He also pointed out this has been the November trend locally over the past two years.
“Each of the last two years [during this period], retail increases [in hiring] were only by about 100,” Todd said. “So, this is not actually such a big departure [when compared to the past two years].”
Nonetheless, like Tennessee’s other 94 counties, Bradley traditionally sees unemployment drops during the holiday season. Those drops then reverse themselves in January and February when temporary retail jobs fizzle.
Yet, Bradley’s slight jobless hike can’t be blamed on retail alone. Todd said other categories — most notably manufacturing and construction — were also flat, and tourism (labeled as leisure and hospitality) continued its seasonal decline by losing another 100 jobs.
Todd said Bradley County’s big winner for the month was professional and business services that added 900 jobs.
In spite of the increase in jobless numbers, Bradley still fared well when compared to the state and national rates. In Tennessee, the figure in November landed at 3.3 (not seasonally adjusted), compared to an October revised mark of 3. Nationally, the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 3.9 percent.
As it has done for the past few years, Bradley continued to lead its Southeast Tennessee neighbors with the lowest jobless rate. Figures recorded among some of Bradley’s immediate neighbors included Hamilton, 3.2, up from 3; McMinn, 4, up from 3.6; Meigs, 4.1, unchanged; Monroe, 3.5, up from 3.2; Polk, 3.9, up from 3.6; and Rhea, 5.4, up from 5.3.
Statewide, the jobless rates rose in 90 counties, dropped in two, and stayed the same in three. Rates came in at less than 5 percent in 87 counties, and in eight counties they ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent.
The state’s lowest jobless figures were found in Williamson and Davidson counties, 2.5; Rutherford and Cheatham, 2.6; Wilson, Sumner and Moore, 2.7; and Knox, Marshall and Sevier counties, 2.9.
The state’s highest marks were reported in Lauderdale, 5.5; Rhea and Bledsoe, 5.4; Houston and Hardeman, 5.3; Benton, 5.2; Lake and Stewart, 5; McNairy, 4.9; and Clay, 4.8.
Although most county rates crept up slightly in November, the news is still good across the state. Last week, when the state department released Tennessee’s preliminary unemployment mark for November, department officials described it as being at “… its lowest level since the federal government began tracking the statistic in 1976.”
In conjunction with Thursday's state department announcement, Tennessee Labor Commissioner Burns Phillips weighed in on the latest numbers with a look at the good and the bad.
"While unemployment rates remain near historically low levels in many counties, there are still areas that need our assistance," Phillips said. "We are working with other state agencies, like the Department of Economic and Community Development, to create jobs and qualified workforces in those distressed counties."
In a prepared statement last week prior to the release of individual county jobless levels, Gov. Bill Haslam said Tennessee’s low numbers continue to paint a positive jobs and economic picture for the Volunteer State.
“We’ve invested in our workforce through educational programs like Tennessee Reconnect and Tennessee Promise to help citizens prepare for the job demands of today’s employers,” the governor stressed. “But we’ve also focused on creating an environment in Tennessee where businesses can thrive and want to invest in our communities and citizens.”
He added, “Jobs are created when companies put capital at risk, and our unemployment rate figures reflect that our policies are attracting companies to Tennessee.”
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