Bradley unemployment dips to 7.6 percent
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Oct 28, 2012 | 1077 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bradley County’s unemployment rate nosedived almost a full percentage point in September to 7.6 on the strength of hiring increases in construction and education, the latter of which included both public and private schools.

The area’s revised rate for August was 8.5.

Increased hiring leapfrogged the Bradley County jobless mark to well under both the state and national rates. For the month, U.S. unemployment was 7.8 percent and the Tennessee tally was 8.3.

“It (jobless rate) went down like it usually does in September, but maybe a little bit more than we had anticipated,” according to Larry Green, labor market analyst who tracks Bradley County hiring trends for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The drop from 8.5 to 7.6 month-to-month is the good news. The better news is the direct comparison to September 2011 when the Bradley County jobless mark was 9 percent, Green cited.

“The main reason [the Bradley County] rate went down is we had a small increase in construction employment, and the rest really came from the educational systems, both public and private,” Green explained.

Much of the fall season’s nonteaching hiring had already taken place in public schools in August so most of the September thrust came in the private education sector, he said.

Collectively, Bradley County’s working picture brightened thanks to construction and both sectors of education.

The county saw an expected drop in tourism-related employment, known as Leisure and Hospitality, as well as slight declines that Green said were “almost not worth mentioning” in manufacturing and retail trade.

“Those two were just fractionally down,” he added. “Overall, it was anticipated that public and private education would continue to improve. We’re always happy to see construction pick up wherever it can. The rest of the [employment] industries were stable. We didn’t even see enough fluctuation to mention.”

Green acknowledged the month’s only real surprise — a pleasant one — came in the depth of the unemployment drop.

“This was a bigger decline that we anticipated, but we’ll take it ... especially when compared to last year,” he stressed.

The Bradley County mark was based on a total labor force of 47,080, of whom 43,510 reported being on a payroll, whether full- or part-time. This left an unemployed balance of 3,570.

The positive news rang true statewide where 94 of 95 counties reported decreases in jobless numbers. Unofficially, Bradley County’s mark placed it in a two-way tie with Hawkins County for the 32nd lowest rate in Tennessee.

Falling numbers in counties surrounding Bradley included Hamilton County, which dropped from 7.7 to 7.1; Marion, down from 9.1 to 8.4; McMinn, from 9.6 to 9; Meigs, which fell a full point from 10.9 to 9.9; and Rhea, from 10.6 to 9.7.

Regionally, the only downside was Monroe County which reported the state’s only jobless rate increase from 10.5 to 10.6 percent.

Across the state, 68 counties reported rates ranging from 5 to 9.9 percent, and 27 counties had marks from 10.1 to 19.9 percent. No counties had numbers less than 5 percent or greater than 20.

Tennessee’s lowest unemployment rates included Williamson and Lincoln counties, 5.2 percent; Knox, 5.9; Wilson, Blount and Rutherford, 6.2; Washington, Sumner and Sullivan, 6.4; and Davidson, 6.6.

The state’s highest jobless marks were Scott County, 16.1 percent; Obion, 13.2; Weakley, 13.1; Lauderdale, 12.5; Perry, 11.4; Gibson, Pickett and Dyer, 11.3; White, 11; and Hardeman, 10.9.

Looking ahead in Bradley County, Green acknowledged October could potentially see a slight uptick in jobless numbers depending on the pace at which retail trade hiring picks up for the coming holiday season. In past years, retailers had always begun beefing up part-time staff in October, but the past couple of years have seen a trend more toward November, Green said.

The key reason is many employers are beginning to offer longer hours — which translates into bigger paychecks — for existing workers. This also lightens the burden of temporary hiring for the holidays and then the inevitable layoffs in January, Green explained.

“I’ve already noticed some stores staying open later ... so the hours will be there,” he noted. “... Whether or not [the stores] hire more people, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Green does anticipate increased hiring by restaurants in November and December, because shoppers tend to eat out. Dining areas will be more crowded and lines will be longer; like the unemployment rates themselves, the restaurant trends are mostly seasonal, Green pointed out.