State’s historically low unemployment rate holds steady

By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor

UPPER CUMBERLAND – For the fifth straight month, the state’s streak of record-low unemployment numbers continues. Holding steady at the historically low 3 percent rate set in September, last month’s rate outpaced the national rate by 1.1 percent.

But is the official unemployment rate an accurate reflection of the number of people out of work?

According to the state’s department of labor and workforce development, there are six different measurements used to calculate unemployment; each using increasingly inclusive definitions.

The nation’s official unemployment rate, which is made up of the total unemployed as a percent of the civilian labor force – and seasonally adjusted – stands at 4.1 percent. However, the unemployment numbers vary greatly across the six alternate measures used by the US Dept. of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics; provided to analysts who want more narrowly- or broadly-defined measures.

For example, the most inclusive alternative measurement combines the total number of unemployed persons, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus the total number of those employed on a part-time basis for economic reasons as a percent of the civilian labor force, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force – seasonally adjusted of course. Using those criteria, the national unemployment rate jumps to 7.9 percent.

Those “marginally attached” are those individuals who currently are neither working nor looking for work but have indicated that they want and are available for a job and have been in the market for the last 12 months.

Conversely, using the narrowest, least inclusive measurement – a percentage of jobless individuals unemployed for 15 weeks or longer – and the nation’s unemployment rate shrinks to 1.5 percent for the same time period.

These more narrow or broad categories do not impact the official unemployment rates released by the state. The standard measurement used to calculate the unemployment rate – somewhere in the middle of the six measures and between the extremes – looks at the number of jobless persons who are available to take a job and have actively sought work in the past four weeks.

Since mid-summer, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has consistently trended downward. In June, the state recorded its first record-low unemployment rate – 3.6 percent. From there, the rate continued to tumble to 3.4 percent in July and fell to 3.3 percent in August.

October’s unemployment rate is 2 percentage points below the reported rate for the same period last year.

“We have focused on bringing high-quality jobs to Tennessee and have attracted companies and jobs that provide strong wages that will evolve as the economy changes,” Gov. Bill Haslam said. “We have focused on recruiting companies that will invest in Tennessee for the long-term and create lasting economic change in our communities, and our record low unemployment rate over the last five months reflects that.”

While the number of nonfarm jobs decreased by nearly 2,300 between September and October – with the largest decreases noted in administrative/support/waste services, retail trade, and accomplished/food services ­– that same segment gained nearly 35,000 jobs over the course of the year; mostly in trade/transportation/utilities, education/health services, and leisure/hospitality.

“Tennessee’s employment rate continues to be one of the lowest in the nation,” TDLWD Commissioner Burns Phillips said. “Month, after month, we continue to see the economic climate in Tennessee is helping build a solid workforce in every corner of the state and that our investment in education and workforce development is paying off.”

The state offers workforce services to assist jobseekers. Currently, there are more than 100,000 positions listed at There, job seekers can search for work and create a resume. There are also several American Job Center locations in the UC – with comprehensive job centers located in Cookeville and Crossville – where job seekers can work with trained specialists to find a job that better meets their needs.

County-specific unemployment data is expected to be released later this week.

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