County unemployment jumps to 8 percent

By Thomas Wilson


   Carter County's estimated unemployment rate soared 1.6 percent for July 2002 to a four and one-half year high of 8 percent, according to labor statistics released Thursday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce (TDLW).
   "It will go up and down like a yo-yo. Everybody's does," said Haynes Elliott, director of Elizabethton/Carter County Economic Development Commission.
   The county had the highest unemployment rate for July of the five counties listed under the Tri-Cities Metropolitan Statistical Area, according to the state's labor figures.
   The July report was the county's highest jobless rate since the figure was reported at 9.2 percent in January 1998.
   The Frank Schaffer Publications plant closed last year and the Alcoa extrusion plant shut its doors earlier this year costing the county more than 280 jobs combined.
   However, Elliott attributed the local unemployment rise to the closure of Fingerhut in Piney Flats.
   He also said the closure of the Alcoa extrusion plant in Elizabethton did not have a major effect on Carter County's unemployment rate due to the number of employees that resided in Johnson City.
   "When Alcoa went out, there were only about 100 we lost from Carter County," said Elliott. "All of the management except one lived in Johnson City."
   Elliott said the facility Alcoa previously occupied was developed for the former Jarl company in 1969.
   "We've sold that plant five times and we'll sell it again," he said. "Every plant we've ever located in Carter County has changed hands at least once."
   The county's jobless rate had remained under 5 percent during most of 2001 falling as low as 3.9 percent in May 2001.
   The TDLW reported that statewide county unemployment rates found 47 county rates were up, 42 county rates were down, and six remained unchanged over the month.
   Williamson County, at 2.7 percent, down from 3.1 percent, registered the state's lowest county unemployment rate. Clay County at 15.4 percent, up from 8.7 percent, reported the state's highest jobless rate.
   Knox County was 3.0 percent, down from 3.1 percent. Hamilton County was 3.9 percent, down from 4.3 percent, while Davidson County reported 4.1 percent, down from 4.4 percent in June. Shelby County reported the highest metropolitan rate, 5.2 percent, down from 5.5 percent.
   The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications for jobless benefits totaled 389,000 last week, down 2,000 from the previous week when benefits had posted a gain of 9,000.
   The nation's unemployment rate for July remained stuck at 5.9 percent with just 6,000 new jobs created last month as businesses, according to the U.S. Labor Department.