Caldwell County unemployment at pre-recession level

Reduction since early 2013 among top 10 in N.C.
Apr. 10, 2014 @ 09:17 AM

Caldwell County’s unemployment rate in February dropped to 7.1 percent, it’s lowest level since April 2008, the N.C. Department of Commerce reported Wednesday.

That’s down a half of a percentage point from January.

Only 14 counties in the state had a larger month-to-month reduction, so Caldwell again moved higher in a comparison of all counties’ rates – Caldwell now ranks 44th in the state. The median unemployment rate – right in the middle of the 100 county rankings – is 7.3 percent.

Over the past 15 months, the response to the monthly reporting of the unemployment rate by Deborah Murray, the executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, has shifted from a tone of hopeful waiting to one of success and turning to the next challenge.

"It seems like things are working in the right direction," Murray said. "The thing I really want to see is a strong increase in the workforce and the number of employed."

The workforce -- the number of people who either have a job or are actively looking for one -- fluctuates in the surveys that the unemployment rate is based on, but it is consistently a smaller number now than it was several years ago. Some of the decrease may be due to people giving up looking for jobs, but a number of people also are reaching the age where they are eligible for retirement, Murray said.

"That's just the truth of the way the demographics are," she said.

A number of companies that either are new to Caldwell County or have announced expansion plans have not yet begun hiring, but in the coming months those hires should begin to boost both the number of people employed and the number of people seeking work, she said.

An indicator of the hiring that she expects to see is the amount of industrial space available to new companies. Three years ago, there was 5 million square feet of vacant and available space across the county. Now there is about 1 million, and some of that is being eyed by companies the EDC is pursuing, Murray reported in a presentation Wednesday to a Leadership Caldwell event.

In February 2013, Caldwell’s unemployment rate was 11.5 percent. That reduction of 4.4 percentage points is better than all but nine other counties.

In April 2008, before the effects of the recession caused unemployment to spike, the local unemployment rate was 6.2 percent, and that was the lowest it had been since mid-2001, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rate peaked at 17 percent in February 2010.

From mid-2001 until the recession, Caldwell’s unemployment rate fluctuated mostly between 6.2 percent and just under 9 percent.

Through most of the 1990s and until the 2001 recession, the local unemployment rate mostly stayed below 5 percent.