For the first time since early April, the number of Tennesseans newly applying for unemployment assistance increased last week by about 5%.
Job losses set records at the start of the pandemic, and in total more than 600,000 Tennesseans have asked for help.
But there has been progress, with new claims and the number of people relying on assistance coming to a gradual decrease in recent weeks. In May, every one of Tennessee’s 95 counties saw improvements in their unemployment rates.
Sevier County in East Tennessee was hardest hit by job loss, largely because of its tourism-driven economy. It still has the highest rate in the state, but it’s down from nearly 30% in April to 18.5% for May.
Still, more than half the state’s counties are dealing with jobless rates between 10% and 20% according to a report from the state’s labor department. The latest figures show more than a quarter-million Tennesseans are still depending on unemployment assistance. They’re collectively receiving about $300 million per week.
The state has been using pandemic relief funds to cover its portion of the payments, but the bulk of each unemployment check comes from an additional $600 available through the federal CARES Act. Those payments, however, are scheduled to stop at the end of July. It is unclear if lawmakers will grant an extension.
A significant portion of the state’s job losses have come from the hospitality and tourism industries, which employs thousands of workers in Davidson County.
Nashville residents made up 9% of unemployment claims in March. But last week, the county accounted for nearly 18% of the state’s 266,000 claims, indicating a slower return to normalcy.