Job-hunting Bradley County workers swarmed the welcoming arms of area retailers in November to plunge the local unemployment rate to 6.4 percent, a near-record drop that earns Cleveland its lowest mark in five years.
The October rate was 7.6 percent, representing a 1.2 percent decrease.
Statewide, the Bradley County tally now sits in a three-way tie with Coffee and Washington counties as Tennessee’s 15th lowest jobless mark.
The local mark is far below the state average of 8.1 percent, and has even dipped below the national ledger of 7 percent.
Compliments mostly of retail establishments seeking to beef up their sales teams in preparation for the Christmas rush, much of the hiring was seasonal and the majority of the jobs could eventually fade by January. But, the hiring was not exclusively in Retail Trade.
Larry Green, a longtime labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said Thursday some of the hiring can be credited to jobs sectors like private schools and privately owned nursing homes, as well as temporary services (some of which were probably hiring for the retail industry).
However, Bradley County hiring also saw a slight uptick in construction. This goes against the seasonal grain as the approach of the colder and wetter months normally is a prelude to less hiring among area builders.
Two categories that showed hiring drops were manufacturing and tourism (recognized as leisure and hospitality) by the state’s labor department, Green said. Manufacturing employment is traditionally up and down, and is directly tied to the nation’s economy. As product demand goes, so goes manufacturing hiring.
Tourism traditionally drops in the colder months. This sector includes area hotels and motels, and restaurants. When travelers stay home, subsequent hiring in the industry does too.
But as it has done in past years, retail trade ruled the day in November. According to Green, the hope is that some of the jobs created will be retained well into the new year and beyond.
“Bradley County’s 1.2 percent drop is a good, solid drop,” Green stressed. “In Bradley, we saw the seasonal jump in retail trade. That was a big gainer.”
That’s the good news. But the news gets a little sweeter thanks to late-year hiring in temporary services, private education and nursing homes, and construction, he added.
Another plus, Green noted, is that although manufacturing hiring was down, “... it was not down by a large amount.”
The only bad news in the November report is that the jobless plunge was so steep in Bradley County that it probably won’t be repeated in December, the analyst projected. But, Green pointed to seasonal trends which show December at least maintaining the same low levels of unemployment as November.
“I would not foresee another drop [in December] this large, but I would tentatively say we should pretty much stay at about the same levels,” Green noted.
He added, “Traditionally, December is the lowest unemployment rate of the year. Sometimes, there are circumstances that might cause [another drop].” However, they don’t normally rival the size of dip that comes with November hiring.
Most of Tennessee shared in Bradley County’s good fortunes, though not necessarily at the same level.
According to the state department, the jobless rate for November dropped in 93 counties. It increased in one county (Sequatchie, by .2 percent), and remained the same in one (Overton, 8.3 percent).
Of Tennessee’s 95 counties, the jobless rate ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 74, and was 10 percent or higher in 21.
In Southeast Tennessee, Bradley County maintained its multimonth streak of bearing the lowest unemployment rate. This includes the much bigger Hamilton County whose mark came in at 7.1 percent, representing a .9 percent drop from 8 percent in October.
Rates in some of Bradley County’s other immediate neighbors included Marion County, 8.2 percent, down from 8.6; McMinn, 8.4, down from 9.2; Meigs, 8.9, down from 9.9; Monroe, 9.7, down from 10.8; Polk, 8.9, down from 9.5; and Rhea, 10.3, down from 10.9.
Bradley County’s rate is based on a total reported labor force of 49,800, with 46,610 of these on the job. This left a workless balance for November of 3,200.
Tennessee counties reporting the lowest unemployment rates included Williamson, 5 percent; Lincoln, 5.2; Wilson, 5.4; Cheatham, 5.5; Rutherford, 5.6; Robertson and Sumner, 5.7; Davidson and Cannon, 5.8; and Knox, 5.9.
Counties showing the highest jobless marks included Scott, 15.7; Lauderdale, 12.5; Pickett, 12; Gibson, 11.7; Haywood and McNairy, 11.3; Lawrence and Carroll, 11; and Hancock and Obion, 10.8.
“Construction should remain stable [through December],” Green said. “Manufacturing ... you never really know what it will do, but it seems to be pretty much staying the same.”
The analyst doesn’t foresee much fluctuation for December’s numbers. But January is traditionally another story. The question with the midwinter month is the number of temporary retail jobs that will have faded away and how it will impact total working numbers.