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Many Tennessee counties see monthly drop in jobless rate

By ADRIAN SAINZ
Associated Press
MEMPHIS (AP) — The majority of Tennessee’s 95 counties saw unemployment dip in June, though the rate of jobless people in the state remains high due to the new coronavirus outbreak, state officials said Thursday.
Seventy-four counties saw their unemployment rate drop last month, with Williamson County recording the lowest at 6.7%, the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development said. The county includes suburbs of Nashville, including Franklin, and it is among the wealthiest counties in the state.
Officials said 17 counties reported an increase in their unemployment rate in June, while four counties remained level with last month. Shelby County, which includes Memphis, recorded the highest rate, at 13.2 percent.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee and city and county officials closed businesses after the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, leading to an unprecedented spike in unemployment rates. The state recorded an unemployment rate of 15.5% in April, an all-time high.
Unemployment rates have dropped since businesses began to reopen, though restaurants and retail stores are still operating at limited capacities in many parts of the state. June’s unemployment rate was 9.7%, down from 11% in May, officials said.
Still, compared with previous years, the unemployment rate remains high. In June 2019, the state’s unemployment rate was 3.4%.
The state labor department said more than 25,000 new unemployment claims were filed during the week that ended Saturday. The state distributed more than $390 million in federal CARES Act funds to more than 285,000 unemployed people last week, the department said.
However, that federal funding could dry up soon. The state has said it will stop distributing a $600 per-week payout made available to unemployed people under the federal coronavirus assistance package in the week ending July 25.
The CARES Act requires states to distribute the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation through the week ending July 31, a Friday. But Tennessee ends its benefit week on Saturdays, and federal law does not allow the state to pay the $600 benefit through Aug. 1 — a Saturday.
Congress is considering another coronavirus relief package that could include an extension of the federal unemployment benefit.
As of Thursday, Tennessee has reported 86,987 cases of COVID-19 and 925 deaths from the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
State Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said 10 Tennessee metro areas and 24 counties are now on the White House’s list of COVID-19 “red zones,” meaning they saw 100 or more new cases per 100,000 population during the previous week.
Larger cities including Nashville, Memphis and Jackson are on the list, but so are smaller ones, including Cleveland, Morristown and Brownsville, Piercey said. Madison County and its surrounding counties are red zones, as are some southeastern Tennessee counties, including Hamilton and Bradley, she said.
In other virus-related news, officials said coronavirus cases at an East Tennessee nursing home have nearly doubled in less than a week.
The Christian Care Center in Bristol reported 92 cases on Wednesday, up from 51 cases on Friday, Director Jennifer Skaggs said in a statement, the Bristol Herald Courier reported.
The cases include 66 residents and 26 employees of the 120-resident home, she said. Three residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have died.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.