A dozen Western North Carolina counties in February had unemployment rates higher than 10.1 percent, the state’s overall unadjusted rate, according to the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina.

And “unless you’re in Buncombe, Henderson or Polk counties, the rates (in Western North Carolina) were 9.6 percent or higher,” said Larry Parker, acting public information director for the state Employment Security Commission. “There’s still clearly a long way to go with unemployment in the western part of the state.”

One piece of good news from the data was that unemployment rates in each of the 17 westernmost counties had decreased since January.

Data released today by the state agency indicated Swain County had the highest unemployment rate in the state for February with a rate of 18.1 percent, down from 18.3 percent in January. Buncombe County had the lowest unemployment rate in Western North Carolina with 8.1 percent, a drop from 8.4 percent the prior month.

Because Swain County has a smaller labor force, Parker said small changes in the number of people filing for unemployment can have a big impact on rates. The state Employment Security Commission reported that Swain County’s labor force in February consisted of 6,703 individuals.

Parker also said the rates released today for February are not adjusted to remove seasonal fluctuations, something that can impact Western North Carolina’s rates because of the large role tourism plays in the region’s economy.

In nearby Tennessee, the non-seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February for the state was 9.6 percent, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce reported that neighboring South Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February was 10.2 percent.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released that the national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for March was 8.8 percent.

February unemployment rates for WNC counties

  • Avery: 11.9 percent (down from 12.4 percent in January)
  • Buncombe: 8.1 percent (down from 8.4 percent in January)
  • Cherokee: 14.0 percent (down from 14.8 percent in January)
  • Clay: 10.9 percent (down from 12.1 percent in January)
  • Graham: 17.2 percent (down from 19.4 percent in January)
  • Haywood: 10.3 percent (down from 10.8 percent in January)
  • Henderson: 8.3 percent (down from 8.5 percent in January)
  • Jackson: 9.6 percent (down from 10.6 percent in January)
  • Macon: 12.4 percent (down from 13.1 percent in January)
  • Madison: 10.2 percent (down from 11.6 percent in January)
  • Mitchell: 12.0 percent (down from 13.2 percent in January)
  • McDowell: 12.5 percent (down from 13.0 percent in January)
  • Polk: 8.4 percent (down from 8.8 percent in January)
  • Rutherford: 14.7 percent (down from 15.4 percent in January)
  • Swain: 18.1 percent (down from 18.3 percent in January)
  • Transylvania: 9.8 percent (down from 10.4 percent in January)
  • Yancey: 12.8 percent (down from 14.4 percent in January)
Graphic by the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina
Vicki Horne Branch Manager ESC

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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