Buncombe continues to see high COVID-19 unemployment
With apologies to T. S. Eliot, April was the among the cruelest months for Buncombe County workers. According to data released May 28 by the N.C. Department of Commerce, 13,059 Buncombe residents filed unmployment insurance claims for the first time in April after losing their jobs due to COVID-19, down slightly from 13,255 initial claims in March.
The county, North Carolina’s seventh-most populous, was fifth on the state’s list of counties by number of COVID-19 claimants in April. Of those claims, 21.7% were from workers in the leisure and hospitality industries, while 15.6% were from the trade, transportation and utilities sector.
State data suggests that the job losses have disproportionately impacted the county’s millennial workers. Employees ages 25-34 made up 26.9% of Buncombe’s initial claims in April, compared with 24.2% of claims statewide. Older workers in the county appear to have fared better, with those ages 45-54 making up just 16.8% of first-time claims compared with 19.3% across the state.
The picture is even more sobering for the four-county Asheville metropolitan statistical area, which also includes Henderson, Haywood and Madison counties. According to an analysis of state Department of Commerce data by Asheville-based accounting firm Johnson Price Sprinkle, the Asheville MSA lost 36,400 jobs — 18.3% of its total workforce — in April.
That percentage loss effectively ties Asheville with Hickory and Greensboro-High Point as the state’s worst-hit metros. In comparison, the Charlotte MSA lost 13.2% of workers in April, while New Bern saw the least impact, with only 8% of its workforce laid off.
Gone but not forgotten
Statistics aside, the area is beginning to see the first wave of permanent business closures as owners, unable to bounce back from significant revenue losses, make the difficult decision to shutter for good.
Addissae Ethiopian Restaurant, which has operated at 48 Commerce St. in downtown Asheville for the last five years, cited the owners’ ages as among the reasons for its closure.
“This has been an incredibly hard decision to make because Addissae has been doing so well and we have had so many old and new friends coming to enjoy our food,” Addissae owners Neeraj Kebede and Victoria Supriti Schomer announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “But the current COVID-19 situation, and our older ages, have made us choose to not go on.”
The Asheville School of Massage and Yoga in West Asheville, Futo Buta Ramen House, which opened at 121 Biltmore Ave. in November, Margaret and Maxwell Wine Salon and Rezaz Pan Medeterranean in Biltmore Village, and Native Kitchen and Social Pub in Swannanoa all join the ranks of the pandemic’s business casualties.
“It is with heavy hearts that we have come to the decision not to reopen Native in the near future,” the Native Kitchen owners announced in a May 8 Facebook post. “Over the past eight years, we have loved sharing in your celebrations, anniversaries and special moments. Of all the things we will miss about Native, and there are so many, the most significant will be the relationships and memories that were created with so many of you.”