When the Bureau for Labor Statistics released their Employment Report for August 2020 the big surprise was the national unemployment rate fell to 8.4%, a full percent lower than what many analysts had forecasted. Today, the bureau released local data showing Rutherford County unemployment at 7.5%. Though it is tough to look at this as good news when over 13,000 Rutherford Countians are still without work, the number of unemployed is still much lower than many experts had projected it would be just a few short months ago. Metro Nashville as a whole is now at just over 1 million employed, with over 171,462 of those living here in RuCo.
The needle moving further towards Rutherford County’s pre-pandemic rate of 2.4% unemployment is certainly welcome news for the local housing market, which is historically closely tied to jobs. Perhaps the largest employment concern locally remains Nissan, by far RuCo’s largest employer with around 8,000 jobs according to the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. In Q1, the Smyrna plant fell victim to the company’s pre-pandemic job cuts amid declining sales of 10% worldwide and 21% stateside. In February, Nissan announced 20,000 jobs cuts worldwide, with 1,200 of those being a “voluntary transition program” at their Smyrna and Decherd, TN plants. Then in March the plant, said to be operating with 7,250 employees at the time, halted production completely. The Smyrna plant has since resumed production, and while Nissan hasn’t released official numbers, it would appear that somewhere around 10% of the Smyrna plant fell victim to the Q1 cuts. Regardless, they still remain Rutherford County’s largest employer as seen in the chart below.
Why This Is Not Like the Great Depression or Even the Great Recession?
During the Great Depression, the national unemployment rate was over 20% for four consecutive years (1932 – 1935). This April, the rate jumped to 14.7%, but has fallen each month since.
During and after the Great Recession (2007-2009), the unemployment rate was at 9% or greater for thirty consecutive months (April 2009 – October 2011). Most economists believe the current rate will continue to fall monthly as the economy regains its strength.
Local trends also suggest we’re still trending the right direction. After spiking from 2.4% in March 2020 to a 20-year high of 16.7% in April 2020, Rutherford County unemployment has seen four straight months of marked improvement. And for those still unemployed, local jobs are out there. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports 5,156 RuCo job openings, which is just over 4.5% of the state’s total job openings. Rutherford County’s Top 5 Employers by Job Openings are Amazon.com, Inc. with 262, Ascension with 133, HCA Healthcare, Inc. with 82, Express Employment Professionals with 66, and The Home Depot, Inc. with 55, according to online advertised jobs data.
What Happens Going Forward?
The outcome will be determined by how quickly we can contain the virus. In their last Economic Forecasting Survey, the Wall Street Journal reported the economists surveyed believe the annual unemployment rates will be 6.6% in 2021 and 5.5% in 2022. Though that will still be greater than the national rate of 3.5% we saw earlier this year, it is still lower than the annual rate reported in 2011 (8.5%), 2012 (7.9%), and 2013 (6.7%).