The last time jobless numbers sagged this low came in December 2008 when The Great Recession was gathering steam; the mark then was 7.1 percent, according to Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.
The local rate compares favorably to the statewide rate of 8.7 percent and the national mark of 8.5.
At 7.2 percent, Bradley County is now in a four-way tie with Cannon, Loudon and Hamilton counties with the 11th lowest unemployment rate in Tennessee. The state’s lowest is found in William and Lincoln counties at 5.4 percent; its highest is Scott County at 18.8 percent.
Because of temporary hiring in retail trade for the holiday season, December is traditionally the lowest jobless rate of the year. By contrast, January is normally one of the highest because most seasonal temporary workers lose their jobs which is not unexpected, Green explained.
In Bradley County, the biggest unknown will be the impact of four business closings — Sears, the Food Lion site on APD-40, Ryan’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill. Green believes their impact will be minimal because they will be spread out over the year’s first three months; plus, by the time their displaced workers are filing unemployment claims, the construction industry should be hiring again in full force. Many of the employees will have found new jobs; some already have.
Green said Moe’s did not have a large workforce and they should be included in Bradley County’s jobless numbers for January. Ryan’s employees are expected to hit the February ledgers, Food Lion in March and labor officials are still waiting to determine the Sears impact and when it will close. At last report, Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and the City Council were leading a community communications campaign aimed at swaying Sears officials to delay the local site’s closure for another year at least.
“When they’re (business closures) spread out like that, and given the size of the Bradley County workforce, it probably won’t have a tell-tale effect on unemployment,” Green said. “Construction might help to offset some of these layoffs.”
In spite of the loss of the four businesses — Ryan’s and Moe’s are already closed; Sears and Food Lion are expected to close soon — Bradley County continues to fare well compared to its immediate neighbors, including Hamilton County whose jobless mark normally remains lower than the local rate.
A few neighboring figures included Marion County, 9.1 percent representing a drop from 9.7 in November; McMinn, 10.0 percent which is a decrease from 10.5; Meigs, 10.6, a drop from 11.3; Monroe, 12.5, an increase from 11.8; Polk, 13.1, a hike from 12.7; and Rhea, 11.3, a drop from 12.0.
Bradley County’s mark in November was 7.7. Hamilton’s was 7.4.
Statewide in December, the jobless rates decreased in 56 counties, increased in 27 and remained the same in 12. Some 55 counties had rates ranging from 5 to 9.9 percent, and 40 had rates of 10 percent or higher. No counties had unemployment marks less than 5 percent, and none were higher than 20 percent.
The state’s lowest jobless rates came in Williamson and Lincoln counties, 5.4 percent; Knox County, 5.9 percent; Washington, 6.6; Wilson, Blount and Rutherford counties, 6.7 percent Sumner and Davidson counties, 6.9; and Sullivan, 7.1.
The state’s highest rates were in Scott County, 18.8 percent; Obion, 15.3; Pickett, 14.9; Polk, 13.1; Perry, Monroe and Lauderdale, 12.5; Haywood and Marshall, 12.2; and Weakley, 12.1.
Green said Bradley County’s unemployment rate in December showed no major surprises other than slight gains in construction.
“Normally, construction declines in January,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see in Bradley County because of the number of new plants going up. We’ll have to wait and see what happens in January.”
Manufacturing in December also rose slightly in Bradley County, he explained.
Seasonal lulls were reported in education and health services, nursing homes, and leisure and hospitality (hotels and motels). A slight increase was seen in local school systems.
“Overall, Bradley County had a real good month in December,” Green said. “The 7.2 percent is much better than the 8.5 percent rate in December 2010. That’s a good drop.”
Of significance is that Bradley’s rate has tied with Hamilton County.
“Hamilton County normally runs below Bradley so that’s an indicator of a good month for Bradley,” he said.
Based on seasonal trends, the January rates for Bradley County — and statewide — should increase. But locally, construction has the potential of offsetting some losses in other hiring sectors, Green noted.