02/09/11 — Jobless rate drops for December

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Jobless rate drops for December

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 9, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County's unemployment rate, along with those of 65 other counties, dropped in December, remaining below the state's average rate of 9.7 percent.

Falling from 8.5 percent in November to 8.2 percent, the rate is down a full percentage point from December 2009 when it reached 9.2 percent.

"It's following most state and national trends, trending downward," said local state Employment Security Commission Manager Bill Pate.

The good news, he said, is that he is seeing fewer and fewer layoffs, despite continuing to get a large number of new unemployment claims each week.

"It's an employer's market, and if you're not performing at their level or doing what you need to do, someone else out there will," he said.

And with 52,391 total people in Wayne County's labor pool in December -- a pretty steady number, Pate said, that includes 48,109 employed, 4,282 unemployed -- there are plenty of people for businesses to choose from as the economy continues to improve.

However, Pate warned, conditions are still fragile and if something unexpected occurred like the price of gas shooting up because of international events, that could put the brakes on any improvements.

He also said that despite current downward trends in the number of jobless, that rate could actually increase as the economy continues to improve and people begin to re-enter the labor force. People who have given up looking for jobs are not counted in the unemployment rate.

"You could see a situation where companies are hiring, but not fast enough to accommodate," Pate said.

Overall, though, he said he thinks things are moving in the right direction heading into spring when hopefully business will continue to pick up -- especially for the county's small contractors, whom he said have been among the hardest hit.

"I'm optimistic. I've got companies that I deal with that are looking to hire more in the spring," he said. "Things are looking up. But business still has got a long ways to go to get the unemployment rate down."

In surrounding counties, unemployment changes were mixed: Duplin, 9.2 percent to 8.9 percent; Greene, 8.9 percent to 9.2 percent; Johnston, 9.3 percent to 8.8; Sampson, 8.5 percent to 8.4 percent; and Wilson, 11.8 percent to 11.6 percent.

The lowest unemployment rate in December was in Orange County at 5.8 percent, while the highest was in Graham County at 15.8 percent.