Local unemployment rises

Asheville and environs saw increased unemployment in May, state figures show. The unemployment rate ticked up in both the Asheville metropolitan statistical area and Buncombe County.

Figures released by the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina show unemployment rising from 9 percent to 9.2 percent in the Asheville metro area — a state designation that includes Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Madison counties — with 18,996 people out of work. Buncombe County fared slightly better, with 8.8 percent of the work force unemployed (up from 8.6 percent in April). That translates into 10,611 Buncombe residents jobless.

The numbers do show a 5.1 percent increase in employment in the “leisure and hospitality” sector — an important industry locally, especially in summer — and small increases in the transport and government sectors, but manufacturing and professional jobs continued to decline (by 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent respectively). So far this year, the area has lost about 8,100 jobs, the Employment Security Commission estimates, with manufacturing, construction and the professions taking the biggest hits.

But that still leaves the area better off than North Carolina as a whole, which the ESC says had 11.1 percent unemployment in May. The Asheville area saw its highest unemployment back in March: 9.6 percent for the metro area and 9 percent in Buncombe.

“There's usually a small increase [in unemployment] around this time of the year as college students get out into the labor market,” notes ESC spokesperson Larry Parker. “But on top of that, you're still having some lingering layoffs, and those are driving it up, though things are better than they were earlier this year.”

Since 1990, when the commission began using its current measuring system, Asheville had never seen unemployment rates like this. Previously, the area's highest recorded unemployment rate had been 7.8 percent in January 1992.

“Overall, most counties haven't seen rates like these since 1983,” says Parker.

The Asheville area is not alone in facing economic upheaval. Statewide, 82 counties saw increased unemployment, and neighboring McDowell County had one of the highest rates in the state (16.5 percent).

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