Caldwell does well by holding steady on unemployment

Local unemployment rate now lower than Catawaba, Burke
Jul. 31, 2013 @ 08:21 AM

The story of Caldwell County’s unemployment rate for June is one of looking better by comparison with the neighbors.

The county’s unemployment rate essentially held steady at 10.3 percent (Caldwell’s rate for May was revised down to 10.2 percent from the original 10.3 percent), the N.C. Department of Commerce reported.

But across most of the state, unemployment rose, and Caldwell's rate now is lower than those in neighboring Burke and Catawba counties: Catawba’s rate for June was 10.8 percent, and Burke’s was 10.4.

You have to go back to 2002, when the local economy was about as strong as it had been in modern times, to find a time when Caldwell's unemployment rate was lower than those neighbors, said Deborah Murray, director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission.

The unemployment rate in the three counties had been moving almost in lockstep in recent months until they hit their lowest point in years in April: 9.6 in Burke, 9.7 in Catawba and 10.0 in Caldwell.

But where Burke and Catawba have seen sharp increases in their rates the past two months, totalling 1.1 percentage points for Catawba and 0.8 for Burke, Caldwell’s has barely moved, up 0.3.

"We were able to hold our own as a county in the battle for jobs," Murray said.

Murray said she's hopeful that's an indication of momentum in local job creation that could pick up in the months of the year that typically are stronger for that.

Only 14 counties in the state saw unemployment drop in June, and five held even.

Like those 19, Caldwell is defying the norm for the summer months, said Larry Parker, the acting director of public information for the N.C. Division of Employment Security.

“Rate increases over the course of the month is kind of typical for most counties across the state,” Parker said.

Typically, more of the long-term unemployed begin looking for jobs in spring and summer, he said. Those seeking work are counted in the unemployment rate, while those who are not looking are not counted, so the rate goes up.

The end of the school year also drives up the unemployment rate because school staff is out of work, Parker said. In the Hickory/Lenoir/Morganton region, the number of government jobs, which includes school jobs, dropped by about 800 in June, the Department of Commerce said.

It is difficult to draw conclusions from month-to-month changes, Parker said, so economic development officials emphasize looking at year-to-year changes, which smoothes out seasonal fluctuations.

From June 2012 to June 2013, only Jones County, a sparsely populated county in the coastal plain between New Bern and Jacksonville, and Swain County, a mountainous county that includes Cherokee, saw a bigger reduction in the unemployment rate than Caldwell. Jones’ rate dropped 1.9 percentage points during the year, to 9.1 percent, and Swain's dropped 1.4 points, to 10.2. Caldwell’s drop was 1.3 percentage points, tied with only Alexander County for the third-best reduction. Alexander’s rate for June was 9.6 percent.