Caldwell County unemployment rate drops to 10 percent

Rate hasn't been lower since October 2008
May. 30, 2013 @ 08:31 AM

Caldwell County’s unemployment rate continued to fall in April, dropping more than half a percentage point from the previous month and hitting the lowest rate the county has seen since fall of 2008.

The drop continues a pattern of month-over-month declines of at least half a percentage point since the beginning of the year, the N.C. Labor and Economic Analysis Division reported on Wednesday. More importantly, it continues a much longer pattern of declines from the previous year. The unemployment rate in April 2012 was 10.9 percent. Year-to-year declines are considered a more reliable indicator of trends than month-to-month changes.

The annual declines reflect what Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, described as a “steady and deliberate path downward” that is leading the county to its “next threshold” of single-digit unemployment rates.

“I am really pleased with the decrease,” she said of the drop from March to April. “This is a very important benchmark for us.”

The drop to 10 percent in April, down from 10.6 in March, is partly the result of about 300 people leaving the workforce, which dropped from 38,038 to 37,737.

Local economic officials, at the same time, are reporting gains in job openings. Dawn Boyer, director of the Lenoir office of what is now the N.C. Division of Workforce Solutions, formerly the Employment Security Commission, said her office has listed about 230 openings at a range of employers in the county.

“To me, that says there is an increase in the number of employers hiring,” said Boyer, whose office is a part of the N.C. Department of Commerce. “There are people going to back to work. There are jobs here.”

Still, she added, “there are employers in the county who can’t find the workforce they need.”

The official count of the workforce includes only the number of employed and unemployed who are seeking work, not “discouraged workers” no longer actively searching for jobs.

The number of employed rose by only slightly more than 100 from March to April, according to state records.

“There are a number of factors,” Boyer acknowledged of measurements used to determine unemployment rates.

Across North Carolina, unemployment rates fell in 97 counties from March to April. From April 2012 to April 2013, 76 counties saw a decrease, including Caldwell.

Across the regional metropolitan area – including Lenoir, Hickory and Morganton – the unemployment rate dipped to 9.6 percent in April, down half a percentage point from the previous month and .8 of a percentage point from April 2012, when it was 10.4 percent.

Three job sectors in the region -- including professional and business services and trade, transportation and utilities -- each hired an estimated 100 workers between March and April. The leisure and hospitality industry, which economic officials say typically expands during spring and summer months, also hired an estimated 100 workers during the same period.

But others, like manufacturing and, decreased by an estimated 100 jobs during the same period.

The data is not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations in employment, the state reported noted.

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. Until the current report, the lowest monthly rate since then was 10.4 percent last September. But even while the rate crept back up to 12 percent in January, the year-to-year comparisons for each month continued to reflect a steady decline.

Despite the downward trend, Caldwell has the second-highest unemployment among surrounding counties -- behind Avery, whose rate hangs at 11.1 percent. Of the 100 counties across the state, it has the 69th highest rate.