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As state reopens, unemployment continues to rise

"We're going to watch a steady improvement from a lower point in the economy through this year and into next year."

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — 503,888 Tennesseans have filed for unemployment since March 15. Sevier and Cocke County have the highest unemployment numbers in the state. 

In April, Sevier County saw 29.5% and Cocke County saw 25.6%. Those claims are still coming in as businesses reopen. Experts said we won't see a huge decrease for a while. 

RELATED: Sevier County has state's highest unemployment rate

"90%+ of people who were laid off viewed themselves as having a job at the other end," said UT economist Dr. Bill Fox. He said unemployment numbers statewide aren't slowing down, "I think we'll see a lot of people not having jobs in retail and some restaurants and chains."

He said there are multiple reasons behind it. One of them, companies have learned to be more efficient with technology while working from home. That's a good thing, but it also means they may not as many people.

"Odds are we'll need fewer workers," said Fox. 

Those cuts can also come as companies phase workers back in. "Likely to be slow at bringing workers back to insure you need them."

If they haven't already, Fox expects large chains to begin talks about cutting dozens of locations. "I think we'll see a lot of that on the restaurant front and retail front."

More will continue to be laid off in the next few months, but he said things will turn around. 

RELATED: Frequently-asked unemployment questions answered

"Do I expect the economy to be booming through summer? No, I don't. We're going to continue to see a recovery but when we get things all open back up we're going to watch a steady improvement from a lower point in the economy through this year and into next year."

Improvements will also be boosted when crowds can return to large attractions operating at full capacity. "We should be happy about where we are given all the trials the economy has faced."

Both Tennessee and national unemployment rates hit 14.7% in April. That's the highest rate since the Great Depression.

RELATED: US consumer spending sinks by record 13.6% in face of virus

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