published Friday, December 28th, 2012

Chattanooga region's joblessness at 4-year low

Unemployment in Chattanooga fell last month to the lowest level in more than four years as local employers added 4,300 jobs in the six-county metropolitan area over the past year.

The share of jobless Chattanoogans fell by seven-tenths of a percent in November to 6.4 percent -- the lowest level since October 2008 and a full 1.1 percent below the comparable U.S. rate for last month.

"November was really a strong month for employment growth -- one of the best we've seen in this recovery -- which seems to suggest that the economy was continuing to rebound from the recession last month," said Dr. Bill Fox, director of the University of Tennessee's Center for Business and Economic Research.

"There's been really good growth in durable manufacturing and in jobs in retail trade, which are both encouraging signs."

Chattanooga has benefited by the hiring of thousands of seasonal workers at Amazon distribution centers in Chattanooga and Charleston, Tenn., and the addition of nearly 1,000 full-time workers at Volkswagen and its suppliers during 2012.

From the trough of the recession in August 2009, Chattanooga has added back 19,290 jobs, according to state employment figures released Thursday. Chattanooga's jobs total still remains 7,070 jobs below the peak reached at the end of 2006, however.

"I think the job market is getting better, but it's still a buyer's market for employers," said Geoff Dickenson, a 54-year-old Chattanoogan who has worked only part time during the past year. "It's hard to get past the applicant tracking system with online job applications today to even talk to a real-life HR person."

As a former sales manager, Dickenson said he has succeeded in getting past that hurdle but without a college degree he said he has struggled to find the right job.

"Something has got to be done to bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots," he said Thursday while applying for work at the Tennessee Career Center at the Eastgate Town Center.

Conseula Hatten, 40, lost her job nearly a month ago and is finding it harder to find a new job than it was even during the worst of the recession in 2009.

"Everybody is still looking for better jobs so there is a lot of competition out there," she said Thursday while searching for work.

Nonetheless, the number of jobless Chattanoogans has shrunk by 2,500 workers over the past year.

Even in hard-hit Dalton, Ga., the jobless rate last month was at the lowest level since November 2008. In metropolitan Dalton, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties in Northwest Georgia, the jobless rate in November declined by three-tenths of a percent to 11 percent.

But the drop in Dalton's jobless rate reflects the continued decline in the number of people in the workforce in Dalton, not necessarily employment gains in the area.

Overall employment in metro Dalton was down by 617 jobs in the past year, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, but Dalton's labor force shrunk by more than twice as much, or 1,457 people.

Dalton continued to have the highest jobless rate among the 14 metro areas in Georgia.

Just to the north, however, unemployment dipped in Catoosa County to 5.8 percent -- the lowest since March 2012 and the lowest rate in the Chattanooga region.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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