By RICK NORTON
Hovering near Tennessee’s jobs-producing elite for years, Bradley County has finally broken into the state’s Top 10 for lowest unemployment rates.In December, the local jobless figure dropped to …
Hovering near Tennessee’s jobs-producing elite for years, Bradley County has finally broken into the state’s Top 10 for lowest unemployment rates.
In December, the local jobless figure dropped to 2.7 percent — from 3 percent in November — tying the county’s all-time low for the second time in 2017. And for the first time in more years than most can remember — possibly even decades — the Bradley unemployment mark finished as the 10th-lowest among Tennessee’s 95 counties.
In September, the Bradley rate also hit 2.7 percent, a level the working community had not seen since December 1998.
A year ago, in December 2016, Bradley’s rate stood at 4.3 percent.
“I haven’t done a historical look at Bradley County’s ranking in Tennessee, but I have not observed Bradley [being in the Top 10] in a long time,” said Patrick Todd, statistical analyst supervisor for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
The rate compares favorably to the state mark of 3.1 percent, down from 3.3 in November, and the national rate of 3.9 percent, which remained unchanged from November.
Bradley’s strong finish to close out 2017 came on the strength of professional and business services that added 900 jobs in December, Todd said. But that wasn’t the only highlight for the county.
Retail trade added 100 jobs, considered to be a continuation of the Christmas shopping season. However, on the flip side of hiring came a reduction of 200 jobs in manufacturing, and 100 slots in construction.
The drop in construction is seasonal, Todd cited. Building in the colder and wetter months of winter normally lessens. As for manufacturing, those jobs are up and down throughout the calendar year, he noted. Factors influencing manufacturing traditionally include product demand or weakness, or plant expansions.
“It looks like job growth in Bradley County is pretty good,” Todd said. “The decline in the unemployment rate in December is not that unusual. In four of the last seven years, Bradley’s rate has gone down in December.”
That’s the uptick. The downside, Todd projected, is that normally unemployment rates rise in January because of the phase-out of temporary jobs created for the holiday rush on retail floors.
“Most of the temporary jobs get wiped out in January, and construction bottoms out as well,” Todd said.
Traditionally, when warmer weather arrives in the spring, construction jobs return … sometimes as early as March, but generally by April.
As it has done for years, Bradley County continued to lead Southeast Tennessee with the lowest unemployment rates. Immediate neighbors, and their rates for December, included Hamilton, 3, down from 3.2; McMinn, 3.8, down from 4; Meigs, 4.1, unchanged; Monroe, 3.4, down from 3.5; Polk, 3.7, down from 3.8; and Rhea, 5.6, up from 5.4.
Across the state, jobless rates decreased in 77 counties, rose in seven counties and remained the same in 11. The state recorded 89 counties with jobless marks less than 5 percent, and six counties reported a range from 5 to 9.9 percent.
Counties recording Tennessee’s lowest unemployment marks included Williamson, 2.2; Davidson, Rutherford and Cheatham, 2.3; Wilson, 2.4; Moore and Sumner, 2.5; Knox and Macon, 2.6; and Bradley, 2.7.
Counties with the highest marks were Rhea, 5.6; Houston, 5.5; Bledsoe, 5.2; Benton and Lauderdale, 5.1; Hardeman, 5; Lake, 4.9; Clay and Haywood, 4.8; and McNairy, 4.7.
County unemployment rates for January will be released on March 8, and February rates will be unveiled on March 29. The March rate announcement will return to a normal schedule with a release date of April 26.
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