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News State / Region Unemployment up slightly in December but news still better than expected

Unemployment data released for the month of December on Tuesday indicated that the glass may actually be half full for Macon and surrounding counties, and unemployment trends may be continuing to improve in the area. While the numbers show an expected increase in unemployment at the close of 2010, the figures were better than anticipated considering the effects of the recession on local economies. Data reflected only a slighter than average amount of the layoffs that normally accompany the off-season in western North Carolina.

The good news for Macon County came in the form of some not so bad news with only a two-tenths of a percent (0.2%) increase in unemployment from 10.1% in November to 10.3% in December.

Using people numbers instead of percentage rates, this means that out of Macon County’s labor force of 15,332 available workers in December 2010, 13,756 were employed and 1,576 were unemployed. Macon also had a slight decrease in its labor force.

The news is even better when compared to the unemployment rate a year ago with an eight-tenths percent (0.8%) increase from 10.2% in November 2009 to 11.0% December 2009. The news continues to look up when December 2010’s 10.3% rate is compared to 11% a year ago indicating a seven-tenths of a percent (0.7%) decrease in Macon County’s unemployment rate.

The good news for Macon County is still a far cry from the unemployment rates that ranged from a low of 3.6% percent to a high of 6.9% over the last 20 years. Experts project that the far western counties, along with others across the state, will continue to improve and may reach similar rates of unemployment by the year 2015.

Compared to the surrounding county’s rates: Jackson – 8.8%, Clay – 9.9%, Macon – 10.3%, Cherokee – 12.6%, Swain – 15.1%, and Graham – 15.8%, Macon County was the third lowest in a field of six counties. Compared to 2009, in which Macon County had the second lowest rate, most of the six counties’ rates are significantly lower this year, except for Swain.

The influx of students at Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College continues to contribute to the local economy in Jackson County throughout the fall and winter season, according to sources with the Employment Security Commission. Spending by the students maintains a healthier economy during the slow season, and helps to reduce layoffs at a time when most businesses in surrounding counties have no choice but to minimize their workforce.

On another positive note, Macon’s 2010’s average rate of 10.27% is a bit lower than 2090’s average of 10.4%. The 2010 average for North Carolina was 9.7%. The state’s December 2010 rate was 9.7% showing a decrease of twotenths of percent (0.2%) from November’s 9.9% rate.

The North Carolina Employment Security Commission reports that Unemployment Insurance benefits paid out to Macon County for all programs during 2010 totaled $16,461,255.

Totals for other western counties:
Jackson - $18,479,261
Swain - $13,581,090
Clay - $7,484,914
Graham - $6,276,007
Cherokee - $4,453,568.

Statewide the NCESC paid UI benefits in 2010 totaling $5,433,707,115.

Jobs that have been hit the hardest in the state mining, logging, construction and manufacturing, followed by trade, transportation and utilities, and then leisure and hospitality. Areas that have shown an increase include professional and business services, information, and education and health services. Government jobs have shown a mixture of ups and downs.

Overall, the good news is that unemployment rates for December were down in 66 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, were only up in 27 counties and stayed the same in only seven. Of the state’s 100 counties, 40 were at or below the state’s 9.7 unemployment rate.

Another good sign for the state is that unemployment decreased from November to December by 14, 248 workers or –0.2%.


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