published Friday, May 24th, 2013

Jobless rates decline in most greater Chattanooga area counties

Unemployment declined across most of Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia during April as the economic recovery continued to boost the job market.

The jobless rate in Dalton, Ga. -- one of the hardest hit metropolitan areas in the country during the recession -- fell to its lowest level since 2008 last month. But the 10.2 percent unemployment rate in the Dalton area in April was still the highest among Georgia's 14 biggest metro areas.

The Georgia Department of Labor said employment in metro Dalton grew by 300 jobs during April, primarily from job gains at local carpet mills. Over the past year, however, employment in Dalton was still down by 500 jobs since April 2012. Dalton was the only one of Georgia's metro areas last month still with double-digit unemployment, reflecting the job losses of more than a fourth of all carpet employment in the so-called Carpet Capital during and just after the Great Recession.

Dalton's 10.2 percent rate of unemployment during April was still a full 2 percent above the statewide rate of 8.2 percent for the rest of Georgia and nearly 3 percent higher than the U.S rate of 7.5 percent last month.

Chattanooga's metropolitan jobless rate rose by a tenth of a percent last month to 7.4 percent and was above the year-ago rate of 7.1 percent. Despite improvements in the three metro counties of Chattanooga in Tennessee, the north Georgia bedroom communities in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties all showed an increase in unemployment.

But the job prospects appear to be improving this summer.

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell 23,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 340,000, a level consistent with solid job growth.

The less volatile four-week average ticked down just 500 to 339,500, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's close to the five-year low of 338,000 reached during the first week of May. The four-week average is 9 percent lower than in November.

"The underlying story in jobless claims continues to be one of gradual improvement," Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas, wrote in a research report.

Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. The decline in claims has coincided with steady job growth over the past six months. Since November, employers have added an average 208,000 jobs a month. That's up from just 138,000 jobs a month during the previous six months.

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