Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is questioning why Tennessee's unemployment rate remains well above the national level when other statistics indicate the state's jobs picture should be improving.
The most recent national unemployment rate released Friday was 5.9 percent — the lowest level since the depths of the Great Recession in July 2008. Meanwhile, Tennessee's jobless rate was 7.4 percent in August.
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Haslam said after a recent jobs announcement in Mt. Juliet that Tennessee is among the top states adding new jobs and that the state is not adding a large number of new claims for unemployment benefits.
"It's a little hard for us to understand why that number hasn't budged," Haslam said. "If you look at the number of net new jobs added, and the people filing unemployment, both of those are going in the right direction in Tennessee."
Tennessee's enduring jobless rate is coupled with sluggish revenue collections that have led the governor to have all state agencies prepare for up to 7 percent cuts in the upcoming budget year. Haslam's critics say the jobless rate and potential spending cuts fly in the face of the governor's often rosy outlook on the state's fiscal outlook.
"Unfortunately, the numbers don't lie," said House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley. "Instead of tinkering with those figures, we should focus on the problem which is the neglect of our existing small businesses."
Fitzhugh said the Haslam administration has directed its economic development too much on large projects.
Officials in Tennessee should "refocus our efforts to support our existing small businesses," he said. "They provide the bulk of our jobs, but it always seems like this administration is focused on big, costly out-of-state recruitment."
Haslam said he has asked some economists to look into the unemployment statistics to "dig back into" the figures to see if they can find an explanation for Tennessee's high jobless rate.