The state’s unemployment rate continues to drop, but officials who track workforce trends say some of that decrease can be attributed to thousands of out-of-work Tennesseans who have stopped looking for work.
“I do think there are some folks who have just permanently, or almost permanently, taken themselves out of the job market saying, ‘I have given up,’” Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after speaking at the American Legion Auxiliary Volunteer Girls State assembly at Lipscomb University Tuesday.
According to Tennessee Department of Labor statistics, almost 3,000 people who were part of the labor force in March stopped looking for work the very next month, joining a category economists call “discouraged workers.”
Over the last few months, the number of discouraged workers has slowly dropped from this year’s high of more than 21,000 people. The figure popped back up to 18,970 in April, a 14 percent increase from March, according to estimates from the monthly Tennessee Labor Force Estimates summary, monthly unemployment insurance claims reports, the 2000 census and national unemployment statistics.
Discouraged workers make up 7.3 percent of the 259,340 out-of-work Tennesseans. In January, the figure was 7 percent.
Workers are classified as discouraged if they have searched for work during the prior year and are explicitly reported as currently available for work, but have stopped looking.
“While Tennessee’s unemployment rate has declined for nine consecutive months, April’s decrease is mostly attributable to a shrinking labor force,” said Karla Davis, Tennessee Department of Labor Commissioner. “This is similar to the monthly change that occurred on the national level.”
The state’s 7.8 percent unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since November 2008 at the beginning of the recession. It is still below the national average of 8.1 percent.
Tennessee’s unemployment rate ranks just above the bottom third in the nation.
Of the state’s 95 counties, those with the highest unemployment rate are all outside the state’s major metro areas. While their rates are still the highest, they have all dropped in the last month.
Here are the 10 counties with the greatest and smallest share of jobless workers, their unemployment rates and explanations given by the state:
- Scott, 15.4 percent. Increase in construction, trade, & manufacturing; rate still high from manufacturing layoffs.
- Obion, 12.7 percent. Transportation reduction ended; rate still high from continuing decreases in manufacturing.
- Pickett, 12.1 percent. Seasonal increase in trade & leisure; rate still high from manufacturing layoffs.
- Lauderdale, 11.9 percent. Rate is high from continuing reductions in manufacturing.
- Perry, 11.6 percent. Rate still high from declines in manufacturing & construction.
- Marshall, 11.2 percent. Rate remains high due to declines in manufacturing.
- Hancock, 10.9 percent. Rate remains high due to previous layoffs in manufacturing.
- Weakley, 10.9 percent. Rate is high from layoffs in administrative support & other services.
- Haywood, 10.8 percent. Rates still high from declines in manufacturing.
- Lawrence, 10.6 percent. Rate remains high due to declines in manufacturing.
Counties with the lowest unemployment rate include:
- Williamson, 5.3 percent. No significant change.
- Lincoln, 5.5 percent. No significant change.
- Knox, 5.8 percent. No significant change.
- Loudon, 6.2 percent. Increases in surrounding counties.
- Blount, 6.3 percent. Increases in retail trade & leisure/hospitality
- Wilson, 6.3 percent. No significant change.
- Washington, 6.4 percent. No significant change.
- Sullivan, 6.4 percent. Increases in manufacturing, retail trade, & leisure/hospitality.
- Davidson, 6.5 percent. No significant change.
- Sumner, 6.6 percent. No significant change.