Area unemployment on the rise

After plummeting to 5.4% in September, the Hamblen County unemployment rose to 6.7% in October, a trend that mirrors the employment outlook in the Lakeway Area and across the state, according to Department of Labor Workforce Development statistics.

The 1.3% increase in the Hamblen County unemployment rate represents the loss of about 370 jobs.

While it’s an inexact science, Morristown Assistant City Administrator Joey Barnard theorizes the increase in the jobless rate is attributable to formerly shuttered businesses that reopened, but reduced employees due to lagging walk-in traffic.

The displaced workers didn’t have a high incentive to seek alternate employment because they were receiving $300-a-week supplemental unemployment benefits, which end on Dec. 26, according to the assistant city administrator.

“I think it’s the federal stimulus money,” Barnard said. “What other rhyme or reason makes logical sense? People were satisfied because they were getting stimulus money.”

Barnard anticipates the Hamblen County unemployment numbers will rise in January after holiday-related hires are no longer needed. In October 2019, the local unemployment rate had bottomed out at 3.3 percent, according to state statistics.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Dr. Matt Murray, a leading Tennessee economist, estimated the state unemployment rate could rise to 30%.

While unemployment is increasing significantly, Morristown sales-tax revenues in September, the last month for which statistics are available, were up 7.4%.

The release of the unemployment and sales-tax figures comes at a time when Morristown City Council members are approaching the decision about whether or not to implement the recommendations of a salary study that would cost city government hundreds of thousands of dollars as an annual, recurring expense.

Councilmembers are scheduled to weigh the options at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 8 at the new Morristown Public Works Department building in West Morristown.