Unemployment numbers don’t tell full story of jobs decline

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The number of jobs in Northeast Tennessee — and the labor force — show an even more severe economic impact than the unemployment rate.

(WJHL) – As official unemployment numbers creep downward across the region, another figure points to the brutal impact of COVID-19 on the job market — actual reported jobs.

Data released Aug. 27 by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDL) show that Northeast Tennessee’s eight counties had 30,000 fewer jobs in July 2020 than it had in July 2019.

That compares to an increase in unemployment of slightly less than 8,000. The difference is made up by a steep decline in labor force participation.

Compared to a year ago, 22,000 fewer Northeast Tennesseans are in the workforce — 210,707 in July 2020 to 232,706 a year earlier.

The total number of jobs regionally has declined more compared to a year ago than it has in the state of Tennessee and nationally.

The number of jobs across the region stood at 221,255 a year ago in July — that number was 191,531 for July 2020.

The data suggest that while the unemployment rate is slowly improving and weekly unemployment claims are edging downward, a number of people have simply left the workforce for the time being.

Workforce participation took a similar hit during the Great Recession of 2008, and it took years for labor force numbers to recover.

Apples to apples

Looking back to February just before COVID-19 battered the economy provides a helpful standard for comparison. Northeast Tennessee’s labor force was 3,000 higher in February 2019 than 2020, and the region boasted 4,800 more jobs.

But from February 2019 to July 2019, the region added 4,400 people to the workforce and 1,200 jobs to the economy.

From February 2020 to July 2020, 15,000 people dropped out of the workforce — a 6.7 percent decline — and the economy lost 24,000 jobs.

Compared to the state of Tennessee as a whole and to the United States, Northeast Tennessee had lost more jobs over the past year.

The decrease nationwide was 8.7 percent, while Tennessee had 12.3 percent fewer jobs in July 2020 than 2019.

In Northeast Tennessee, that figure was 13.4 percent.

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