It’s inevitable. What goes down, and keeps going down, must eventually go back up ... even if the rise is a little difficult to explain.
Such is the case with Bradley County’s unemployment rate for May. At 5.8 percent, the local jobless figure jumped by seven-tenths of 1 percent, from 5.1 in April. It’s not a major leap, but job watchers and economic recovery analysts had hoped for something a little better — especially on the heels of two strong months that sent the jobless numbers plummeting to their lowest levels in six years.
Last month, labor market analysts hoped out loud the Bradley County unemployment mark might even dip just below 5 percent in May ... for the first time in, whenever.
Yet, once May’s workless dust had settled, the numbers showed a small increase. But here’s the kicker. Bradley County’s rise in unemployment wasn’t necessarily Bradley County’s fault.
“It’s one of those months where we had the number of people employed going up, but also ... the number of people unemployed also went up,” explained Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
It sounds a little wacky, and Green admits it’s sometimes hard to explain, much less put a finger on the pulse of cause. But here’s the longtime labor analyst’s best guess.
“Usually, when this happens [increases in the numbers of those who have jobs, and those who don’t have them] it’s because of layoffs in surrounding counties,” Green said.
Although Green doesn’t have at his fingertips the number of Bradley County residents who commute to other cities and counties to get to their jobs, it’s a large enough sum to influence local unemployment rates when those neighboring jurisdictions suffer layoffs.
When commuters lose their jobs, they file for unemployment claims in their counties of residence, Green explained. For example, if a Bradley County resident who works in Chattanooga loses his job due to layoffs or other circumstances, he will file for unemployment assistance in Bradley County. The reverse is also true — if a Chattanooga resident loses his Cleveland job, he files his jobless claim in Hamilton County.
Green believes this may be the partial culprit behind Bradley County’s unemployment rise. His evidence is that bordering neighbors like Hamilton, Meigs and McMinn counties also saw joblessness tilt upward. And, four major Bradley County employment categories — construction, manufacturing, temporary services and tourism (labeled as leisure and hospitality) — witnessed hiring increases during the month of May.
Three Bradley County industries — retail trade, financial activities (banks, insurance companies and real estate) and state government — did see drops in working numbers, but strong hiring in the other categories should have offset these losses under normal circumstances. That’s why Green believes employment drops affecting Bradley County commuters may be partially to blame for the disappointing 5.8 percent mark.
Regardless of the cause, or causes, Green kept the Bradley County mark in perspective.
First, the local unemployment figure in May 2013 was 7.6 percent, so the Bradley County number is still almost two points below the same period of a year ago. And, the local mark remains below state and national levels.
“This does not signify a trend by any means,” he said. Later he added, “The Bradley County number still compares favorably to the state and national rates, and it remains the lowest of all the counties near it that share a border.”
For May, the U.S. rate was 6.3 percent and the Tennessee mark was 6.4 percent.
Locally, rates among Bradley County’s immediate neighbors included Hamilton County, 6.2 percent, up from 5.6; Marion, 7.5, up from 7.2; McMinn, 7.0, up from 6.5; Meigs and Monroe, both at 7.7, and both were up from 7.3; Polk, 6.5, down from 7.6; and Rhea, 7.9, up from 7.6.
May’s reports put Bradley County in a four-way tie for the 16th lowest jobless rate in Tennessee. Bradley shares the mark with Franklin, Loudon and Macon counties.
Bradley County’s jobless increase came in good company. Statewide, the unemployment mark jumped in 88 counties, dropped in five and remained the same in two.
Rates were less than 5 percent in two counties, ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 91 counties, and were 10 percent or higher in two counties. No counties reported jobless marks of 20 percent or higher.
The state’s lowest unemployment rates came in Lincoln County, 4.4 percent; Williamson, 4.6; Wilson and Rutherford, 5; Robertson, Cheatham and Sumner, 5.1; Blount and Davidson, 5.2; and Knox, 5.3.
The state’s highest jobless marks were found in Scott County, 12.5 percent; Lauderdale, 10.6; Pickett, 9.9; Wayne, 9.7; McNairy, 9.6; Gibson, 9.5; Hancock, 9.3; Hardeman, 9.1; and Caroll and Haywood, 9.
“On the whole, employment in Bradley County was actually up,” Green stressed. But when commuters lose their jobs — in either direction — it can impact the unemployment numbers for home counties, he added.
Although labor analysts don’t make a habit of predicting the future — it’s a little tricky — Green suggested the June mark could see another small rise. That’s because nonteaching personnel in the Cleveland City and Bradley County school systems who are not 12-month employees will be added to the local unemployment rolls.
“It’s possible the unemployment rate will go up in Bradley County in June,” Green cautioned. “We’ll just have to see if anything offsets [the nonteaching layoffs] such as a surge in hiring.”
If it occurs, such a surge for this time of year most likely would come in construction or tourism.
But overall, Green said of the local unemployment mark, “Bradley County still looks good.”