Caldwell County unemployment hits another low

Partly attributed to shrinking labor force
Oct. 03, 2013 @ 06:27 AM

Caldwell County’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.9 percent in August, the lowest since October 2008, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported Wednesday.

But part of the improvement may be due to the labor force declining by almost 900 people. A shrinking labor force can be a sign of the long-term unemployed giving up and dropping out of the labor force.

That drop was a major factor in the restrained reaction to the unemployment rate by Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.

"I think we're still making incremental progress ... but I'm not going to crow about this new number," she said.

Revised figures for July that were released Wednesday also generated some confusion. Local officials had thought that July was the first month since October 2008 that the local unemployment rate dropped below 10 percent, but the revised figures sharply increased Caldwell County’s unemployment rate for July.

Originally the state reported the county’s unemployment rate as 9.9 percent for July, but in the revised figures it was 10.6 percent. The total labor force for the month was revised up by almost 300 people, and the number of unemployed was revised up by more than 300 people.

That is an unusually large revision, judging by previous reports on the unemployment rate: In the previous six months, no revision changed the unemployment rate up or down by more than 0.1 percentage points.

The reason for July’s revision of 0.7 percentage points will remain a mystery for now, however. All of the employees in the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division who would be able to explain it are in jobs funded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, so they are not working while the federal government is shut down, said Larry Parker, acting public information director for the N.C. Division of Employment Security.

Murray said one guess about the revision is that it may be tied to the July 1 end of extended unemployment benefits in North Carolina, which she had been expecting for months would push the local unemployment rate higher but, in last month's report, did not.

"To me this feels like a reset button" was hit in the calculations, she said.

At 8.9 percent, Caldwell County's unemployment rate is only slightly higher than the state average of 8.3 percent. Half of the state's 100 counties have rates of 8.6 percent or lower, and half have 8.7 percent or higher.