In spite of mild hiring in three key employment categories, Bradley County’s jobless rate continued to inch upward in July on the weight of small drops in three other sectors: manufacturing, temporary services and retail trade.
The four-tenths of 1 percent hike brought the local jobless number from 7 to 7.4 percent.
But in the spirit of the familiar cliche “misery loves company,” Bradley was among 86 of Tennessee’s 95 counties that saw a jobless increase for the month. Rates dropped in only five and remained the same in four.
At 7.4 percent, the mark placed Bradley in a six-way tie for the 16th lowest unemployment rate in the state, alongside DeKalb, Roane, Sullivan, Union and Washington counties.
The mark is still an improvement over 2013. Last year in Bradley County, the July jobless rate was 8.1 percent.
Tennessee’s state rate (July 2014) was 7.1 percent and the national mark was 6.2.
Although Bradley County lost ground in manufacturing, temporary services and retail trade, a modest hiring trend was reported in construction, leisure and hospitality (tourism which includes predominately hotels, motels, retaurants and rental car companies), and private education and health services (schools, nursing homes and hospitals that are considered private), according to state reports.
“Bradley County didn’t have much fluctuation in any of the industries (categories),” said Larry Green, labor market analyst for the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “We did have manufacturing to go down some ... but it wasn’t due to any big layoffs or anything. It wasn’t a huge decrease.”
He added, “The other industry to go down with manufaturing was temporary services. We also had a slight decline [in hiring] in retail trade which is not unusual for the summer months.”
As it has for at least the past couple years, Bradley County remains the lowest unemployment rate in the state’s southeastern corner; at least, among its immediate neighbors. Other rates for the month included Hamilton, 7.8, up from 7.2 in June; McMinn, 8.5, up from 8.1; Meigs, 9.1, up from 9; Monroe, 9.3, up from 8.9; Polk, 7.6, up from 7.5; and Rhea, 10, up from 9.6.
“Once again, Bradley County’s is the lowest rate among the counties in the immediate area,” Green stressed. Although Green monitors jobless marks across much of Southeast Tennessee, he pays particular attention to how Bradley compares with the much larger job market in Chattanooga and Hamilton County.
He has pointed out in previous interviews that when Bradley County comes in with a lower rate than Hamilton, as it has for well more than a year, it is a good sign for local workers.
Statewide, the jobless rate ranged from 5 to 9.9 percent in 71 counties and was greater than 10 percent in 24. No counties reported marks of 4.9 percent or lower, or 20 percent or higher.
Counties reporting the lowest jobless rates were Lincoln, 5.6; Williamson, 5.7; Wilson, 6.2; Cheatham and Davidson, 6.3; Sumner and Robertson, 6.4; Blount, 6.5; Knox, 6.6; and Loudon, 6.7.
Counties with the highest marks were Scott, 14.3; Weakley, 14; Hancock, 12.5; Lauderdale, 12.2; Gibson, 11.3; Pickett and Lawrence, 11.2; Van Buren, 11.1; and Caroll and Obion, 11.
Despite the slight inching up of workless numbers, Green sees the month of August as bringing better news. That’s because of the reopening of schools.
“In August, we expect to see the return [to work] of nonteaching personnel,” he noted. “If we follow seasonal trends, that should have a positive impact on the unemployment rate. We hope to see an improvement in August.”
Green said he is unaware of any pending layoffs in area industries and construction is still going strong; at least, for as long as the warmer, drier summer weather holds out.
He suggested tourism might take a slight tumble in August because area students will begin leaving their jobs in restaurants in order to return to school.
“Sometimes that brings employment numbers down,” Green explained.
Overall, he said he sees stable employment for Bradley County in the short-term. And at some point this fall, in October or November, retail trade is expected to pick up its hiring in preparation for the Christmas shopping season.
“I can’t see anything in the economic picture that indicates an abnormality other than just our seasonal trend,” Green said. “The four-tenths of 1 percent increase in July falls well within the normal range for this time of year.”
He added, “It (rate) could have gone down four-tenths or gone up four-tenths and it would have still been a normal fluctuation for July.”