Santa Claus had more than just toys and gift cards in that overstuffed bag.
Judging from the latest numbers released by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the big guy must have brought a few hundred jobs with him to Bradley County from the North Pole — and most were apparently elf labor.
According to Larry Green, labor market analyst who monitors Bradley County’s working numbers, employment in retail trade rose sharply in November — as expected — en route to dropping the local jobless mark to what is thought to be its lowest level in the past four years.
Based on a total labor force of 46,060, some 42,950 Bradley Countians reported having jobs which signaled an unemployment rate of only 6.8 percent, as compared to 7.6 in October. The local mark is far below the national rate of 7.7 percent and the state tally of 7.6.
The positive state report — which identified unemployment drops in 91 counties — showed Bradley County sharing the 22nd lowest jobless rate in Tennessee with only Sequatchie County. Rates rose in one county, Warren, from 8.7 to 8.8; and stayed the same in three — Clay at 9.6, Pickett at 11.2 and Van Buren at 10.7 percent.
“Retail trade was the biggest reason for the lowering of the unemployment rate in Bradley County,” Green said. “We had a substantial increase in hiring in retail trade.”
As was forecast in September and October, retailers began adding to their floor staffs to prepare for the Black Friday, Christmas and post-Christmas shopping bonanza in Cleveland. Most of the jobs are seasonal — meaning, only temporary — so Bradley County’s jobless rate is expected to remain low for December’s state reports. As is a seasonal trend, the marks should then begin to rise in January. The question in the minds of most will be, “ ... But by how much?”
Retail trade isn’t the only highlight in Bradley County’s employment uptick.
Construction also witnessed a slight increase, as did local government which refers to education, Green explained. Two categories that saw job dips were manufacturing, but only mildly, and leisure and hospitality which refers to tourism. This latter jobs sector includes hotels and motels, restaurants and rental car agencies, among others.
“The drop in manufacturing was so slight that it’s almost not worth mentioning,” Green said. “It’s just a normal monthly fluctuation ... no major layoffs or anything. It was just slightly down.”
Although the conspicuous drop in local unemployment was expected from October to November, it’s still good news for a state, a region and a county still struggling to overcome the impact of a five-year-old recession that some believe has ended while others respond, “Says who?”
“This is definitely the lowest unemployment rate for Bradley County this year,” Green said. “It is probably the lowest rate in several years or at the very least very close to it.”
He planned to research the Bradley County numbers later this week.
Bradley County’s joblessness is faring especially well compared to its neighbors. Only the much larger Hamilton County had a lower unemployment rate at 6.4 percent, which is down from 7.3 in October.
Other local counties, and their jobless rates, included Marion County, 7.7 percent, which is down from 8.2 in October; McMinn, 8.3 percent which is down from 9.2; Meigs, 9 percent which is down from 9.7; Monroe, 9.1 percent which is down from 10.8; Polk, 8.9 percent which is down from 9.3; and Rhea, 9.1 percent which is down from 9.9.
Across the state, jobless rates are less than 5 percent in two counties, between 5 and 9.9 percent in 79 counties, and 10 percent or above in 14 counties. No communities are reporting jobless rates of 20 percent or higher.
Tennessee’s lowest unemployment rates are found in Williamson County, 4.4 percent; Lincoln, 4.8; Knox and Blount, 5.2; Rutherford, 5.3; Wilson and Washington, 5.5; and Loudon, Sumner and Sullivan counties, 5.6 percent.
Tennessee’s highest jobless marks belong to Scott County, 15.3 percent; Obion, 12.3; Lauderdale, 11.8; Pickett, 11.2; Weakley, 10.9; Perry, 10.8; Van Buren, 10.7; White and Dyer, 10.6; and Gibson County, 10.3 percent.
The city of Cleveland — featuring a total labor force of 18,570 with 17,260 of those working, and leaving an unemployed balance of 1,310 — reports a jobless rate of 7 percent. Some of the other Tennessee cities, whose population exceeds 25,000, with the lowest unemployment marks include Brentwood and Franklin, 4.4 percent; Spring Hill, 5 percent; Bristol, 5.2; LaVergne and Smyrna, 5.4; Johnson City and Maryville, 5.5; and Bartlett, Murfreesboro and Nashville, 5.7 percent.
Among the state’s 10 metropolitan areas, which might include more than one city and a surrounding perimeter, the unemployment rates include Chattanooga, 7.1; Clarksville, 8.3; Cleveland, 7.8; Jackson, 8.2; Johnson City, 7; Kingsport-Bristol, 6.9; Knoxville, 6.2; Memphis, 8.6; Morristown, 9.3; and Nashville-Murfreesboro, 6.4 percent.
As a longtime state labor market analyst, Green prefers not to make predictions on coming employment changes from month to month. However, he sees December as being a month of leveling off and which will likely be followed by an unemployment increase in January as retailers begin to pare down their seasonal workforces.
Predictions beyond that are best left to “... wait and see,” he advised.