New data paints ugly picture of job losses in Memphis metro

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 28, 2020 4:10 PM CT | Published: May 28, 2020 9:13 AM CT

Memphis metropolitan area unemployment more than tripled to 12.7% in April, from 3.9% in March, as 76,221 people were out of work during the COVID-19 economic shutdown.

Memphis saw unemployment hit 14.3%, up from 4.2% in March, while lower rates in suburban communities kept metro numbers below state and national averages of 14.7%.

Unemployment was 7.7% in Germantown (up from 2.5%), 8.2% in Collierville (2.4%) and 10% in Bartlett (2.7%).

Six of the 10 counties with the state’s lowest county unemployment rates were in West Tennessee, led by Fayette County at 9.4% (up from 3.3%). The Shelby County rate was 12.9% (up from 3.7%).

Sevier County in East Tennessee had the state’s highest unemployment rate, 29.5% (up from 3.5%), and the Nashville-Murfreesboro metro area’s jobless rate was 15.4% (from 2.5%).

The preliminary numbers for April and revised numbers for March were released Thursday, May 28, by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The breakdowns of unemployment by city, county and metro area came a week after the U.S. and Tennessee reported the worst unemployment since the early 1980s.

Tennessee unemployment highest in 37 years in April

Earlier Thursday, the state reported new unemployment claims from March 15 through May 23 totaled 92,020 in Shelby, Fayette, Tipton and Lauderdale counties of southwest Tennessee. Nearly 27,000 new claims have come in during the past four weeks.

Bullard predicts unemployment in single digits by year’s end

However, the pace of new claims has continued to slow as businesses reopened, in some cases with limitations on how many customers they can serve.

Tennessee reported 5,940 new claims filed from Shelby and three other southwest Tennessee counties in the week ending May 23.

Statewide claims grew by 26,041, pushing cumulative filings since March 15 to 558,621, although the number of continued claims fell to 310,126 after peaking at 324,543 April 25.

Continued claims reflect the sustained impact of COVID-19 on jobs, compared to the total accumulation of new claims over time.

“Continued claims are a more accurate way to measure the ongoing pressure,” said John Gnuschke, director of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis. “Some people find jobs, some stop searching and some fall out of the system coverage because of rules and requirements.”

The national total increased by 2.1 million, to more than 40 million since March 15, but it was down from 2.4 million new claims a week earlier.

Whether the new claims translate into an even higher unemployment rate in May depends on how many people have returned to work as part of a phased reopening of the economy.

There were 28,000 people unemployed in the metro area in February, before COVID-19 began restricting people’s movement and causing governments to issue shelter-at-home orders.

Beige Book: Health care, retail, hospitality among biggest drags on economy

The state labor agency said it paid 333,063 claims totaling $375,071,952 in federal benefits in the week ending May 23. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is providing $600 a week in federal benefits through July 31.


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Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 43-year veteran of print journalism, 35-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.


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