In Stark Reversal From Recession, Only One County In Tennessee Now Has Unemployment Over 5 Percent

Jul 10, 2017

Tennessee's unemployment rate has approached a low-water mark — 4 percent — and the market for jobs appears to be strong statewide.

In a major reversal from a few years ago, only one of Tennessee's 95 counties has an unemployment rate higher than 5 percent: Rhea County on the Cumberland Plateau in East Tennessee. In the Nashville metropolitan area, unemployment stands at just 2.1 percent, one of the lowest rates among big cities in the nation.

That stands in stark contrast to the worst part of the recession in 2009, when unemployment peaked at more than 10 percent statewide and, in some corners of Tennessee, topped 20 percent.

Gov. Bill Haslam says the causes of the turnaround include Tennessee's lower taxes, better quality of life and lighter regulations, although he concedes much of that improvement was caused by factors beyond his administration's control.

"The truth is the national economy is doing much better," he says. "But that being said, I think Tennessee's economy has grown faster, and I do think that's about putting the right policies in place."

The national unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent in 2009 to 4.3 percent today. That's slightly higher than Tennessee's rate, and lower unemployment here has translated into higher wages for the state's workers.

The average private sector worker in Tennessee is now earning about $800 a week. That's up nearly $50 from a year ago but still about $100 less than the national average.