Western North Carolina county unemployment rates for May. Map courtesy of the N.C. Division of Employment Security.

Most WNC counties post above-average unemployment

Jobseekers in the region likely already know what the latest numbers from the N.C. Division of Employment Security show — location matters.

Countywide unemployment rates released Friday showed that nine of the 17 westernmost counties posted increases in joblessness in May. Seven saw a decrease, and one — Madison County — remained the same.

Click to view full-size image. Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

“While rates were up in most counties for May, over-the-year, we see a positive downward trend,” N.C. Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary Dale Carroll stated in a release on the data. “Rates were down in 88 counties across North Carolina since May of last year. Our focus remains on growing jobs across the state as several key job announcements have been made over the past several weeks. Our employment services offices are committed to working with employers to get job seekers back to work in North Carolina.”

Over-the-year numbers were down in most of the 17 westernmost counties of North Carolina, too, a look at the data revealed.

Eleven experienced a drop in rates, while four experienced an increase. The counties with worse unemployment this year than last were in Avery, Madison, Mitchell and Transylvania, while rates remained the same in Jackson and Graham.

The most notable drop in unemployment when compared to April was in Yancey County, where the rate fell 1.7 percent.

Also, Graham County, where leaders and residents have been struggling with what has recently been the highest or one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, saw a month-over-month decrease. Between April and May, the rate there decreased a full percentage point, to 15.7 percent.

Despite the change, the region still holds some of the worst employment rates in the state, with Graham second highest and Rutherford third highest. Scotland County had the state’s highest rate, at 16.9 percent, well above the state average of 9.4 percent.

And 12 of the 17 westernmost counties were above that same statewide average, while five fell below. The ones below the statewide average were Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Madison and Polk. Henderson, at 7.1 percent, had the lowest unemployment rate among the 17 westernmost counties.

It may come as no surprise, then that a look at the Asheville Metropolitan Statistical Area numbers, which is a combined rate that includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties, shows one of the high points in regional unemployment for the month.

Though the unemployment rate increased 0.2 percent between April and May, the rate — which is now 7.6 percent — is still second lowest in the state, behind the Durham-Chapel Hill MSA.

Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

Correction: A previous version of this story included a chart that misidentified the over-the-month numbers.

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Angie Newsome was the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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