The jobless in Ashe County can breathe a sigh of relief as the county’s unemployment rate continues to drop by small percentages.
“The unemployment rate has been gradually decreasing and hopefully, that will continue. Opportunities are increasing and businesses need more workers. Unfortunately, there is still a skills mismatch of what businesses want and what workers can provide,” said Anne Bowlin, the director of the Employment Security Commission (ESC) in Wilkes County.
The latest release from the N.C. Department of Commerce reports Ashe County’s unemployment rate at 10.9 percent in July 2012. This is down slightly from June’s unemployment rate of 11.3 percent.
Last year, July’s unemployment rate was 12.3 percent. This shows a steady decrease in Ashe County’s unemployment rate.
According to the report, Ashe County is nestled in an area that is showing average unemployment rates that are decreasing. Of the five N.C. counties in close proximity to Ashe, the unemployment rate is no better than 8.7 percent and no worse than 11.1 percent.
Of Ashe County’s neighbors, Watauga County’s rate has dropped from 8.8 percent in June to 8.7 percent in July. Wilkes County’s unemployment rate dropped from 11.2 percent in June to 11.1 percent in July.
More dramatic drops are seen in Avery County, whose unemployment dropped from 11.2 percent in June to 10.7 percent in July. Alleghany County’s rate dropped from 10.8 percent in June to 10.4 percent in July.
Excluding Watauga, these rates are slightly higher that North Carolina’s average unemployment rate of 9.8 percent. N.C.’s lowest unemployment rate comes from Currituck County with 4.7 percent; its highest unemployment rate is Scotland County with a 17.6 percent rate.
Of N.C.’s 100 counties, 47 counties’ unemployment rates are lower than last month’s, 26 counties have a higher rate than last month, and 27 counties remained the same.
The jobless in Ashe County have drawn approximately $9.3 million in unemployment insurance benefits from Aug. 2011 though July 2012. This is greater than the unemployment insurance benefits of Alleghany County ($3.2 million) and Avery County ($5.2 million) combined. Ashe County’s yearly amount is similar to Watauga County’s near $9 million in unemployment insurance benefits.
However, Ashe County’s yearly unemployment insurance benefits of $9.3 million are less than half of Wilkes County’s $20.4 million. These amounts do not take into consideration the differences in workforce size.
Ashe County also has a total of 164 people drawing regular unemployment benefits, while 163 are drawing Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC).
According to Larry Parker, the public information officer of the ESC in Raleigh, the number of unemployed in Ashe County has decreased by 73 people since June.
Parker also said all of the numbers given could be skewed based on a short-term seasonal change. He said the best way to determine if Ashe County’s growth was genuine would be to look at yearly trends. The trend in Ashe County from July 2011 to July 2012 shows a drop in unemployment by 1.4 percent.
Even though the number of unemployed has dropped by 200 people since last year, the labor force has dropped by 100 people. This makes the unemployment rate appear to have dropped more than it actually has.
“With a labor force the size of Ashe County’s, a drop in the labor force plus the unemployment will cause a swing in the data,” said Parker.
ESC Director Bowlin gave some insight into local opportunities and threats for unemployment. She said the unemployment rate could be affected by the removal of the tubing facility in Gates Co., in Jefferson. Around 80 workers have seen their jobs disappear, however, they will continue to draw a paycheck through Sept. 8. After that, they will be factored into the unemployment figures.
At the same time, there is a need for agricultural workers for the coming Christmas tree season, which may lead to a short-lived decrease in unemployment.
“There are still not enough jobs to go around,” said Bowlin, “but things are looking better.”