Caldwell County's unemployment rate edges up

Driven by more seeking work, seasonal flux
Jul. 03, 2013 @ 08:35 AM

Caldwell County’s unemployment rate edged up slightly in May, but by less than in most other counties in the state.

The county’s unemployment rate was 10.3 percent, up from 10 percent in April, the N.C. Department of Commerce reported Tuesday.

Recent signs of economic growth may have actually contributed to the slight rise in the rate, said Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.

"We have expected our unemployment rate to bump up in the next months because there is more confidence in the economy, so more people are out looking for work," she said.

People who have given up looking for work and whose benefits have expired do not get counted in the unemployment rate, but when they start to look again they do.

May also traditionally is a time of year that more people enter the workforce, including new college graduates and students on summer break, so it is common for the unemployment rate to move higher, said Larry Parker, the acting director of public information for the N.C. Division of Employment Security. That appears to be the case in Caldwell, where the labor force in May grew by 113 people, but the total number of unemployed grew by 109.

The total number of people employed in Caldwell County barely changed from the previous month: It was 33,909 in April and 33,913 in May, according to the Commerce Department’s figures.

Murray said that "a number of folks are ramping up and hiring." Among them she cited Baker's Waste, which is preparing to open its plant in Whitnel, Carolina Prime Pet on Morganton Boulevard in Lenoir, and Woodgrain Millwork off Complex Street in Lenoir. Local furniture plants, among others, also have been advertising jobs.

"We see very, very good things coming in our employment rates," she said.

May was the first time since the start of 2013 that the month-to-month change in the unemployment rate was an increase, but it continued a much longer pattern of declines from the previous year. The unemployment rate in May 2012 was 11.6 percent. Year-to-year changes are considered a more reliable indicator of trends than month-to-month changes because of seasonal factors that affect employment.

The number of local job listings continues to be much higher than it was just a few months ago, said Richard Sena, the assistant manager of the Lenoir office of what is now the N.C. Division of Workforce Solutions, formerly the Employment Security Commission.

“As far as what we see in the office, we see opportunity,” Sena said. “From a year ago, there seems to be on the order of at least 30 percent more listings.”

Though many employers do not list their jobs with Workforce Solutions, a consistent proportion do, so the change in listings tends to mirror the larger trends in the county, Sena said.

The change in Caldwell’s rate was better than most others in the state, including in the local metropolitan statistical area. Catawba County’s rate increased by 0.5 percentage points to 10.2, and Burke’s increased by 0.6 to 10.2 percent.

Twelve counties statewide saw decreases in unemployment, one had its rate hold steady, and only 11 had increases smaller than Caldwell’s change of 0.3 percentage points.

In the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton region, sectors seeing job gains from April were government, professional and business services, and trade, transportation and utilities, while the leisure and hospitality industry and manufacturing lost jobs. The state does not break out job sector gains and losses for individual counties.

From May 2012, the sector seeing the greatest job gains in the region was professional and business services, about 800 jobs, while the greatest loss was in manufacturing, about 900 jobs.

Statewide, the unemployment rate in May barely changed from April, dropping 0.1 percentage point to 8.8 percent, the Department of Commerce reported June 21. In May 2012 it was 9.5 percent.

Caldwell County’s unemployment rate shot from 6.2 percent in April 2008, before the effects of the recession took shape, to 14.6 in February 2009. It peaked at 17.1 percent in February 2010.

The last time Caldwell’s unemployment rate was under 10 percent was October 2008, when it stood at 8.8 percent. The next month, it hit 10.1 percent.