04/08/11 — Wayne's jobless rate down for February

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Wayne's jobless rate down for February

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on April 8, 2011 1:46 PM

Wayne County, along with 93 other North Carolina counties, saw its unemployment rate decrease in February. The county's jobless rate dropped from 8.8 percent in January to 8.5 percent in February, according to the state Employment Security Commission.

The overall decrease in the unemployment rate came a month after an almost universal increase across the state in January, which Wayne County branch manager of the N.C. Employment Security Commission Bill Pate said is typical as retailers let go of temporary employees they hired during the holidays.

And while these types of seasonal cycles have large impacts on farm-heavy counties' rates, Pate said Wayne County's strong manufacturing sector helps to stave off increases when harvest season ends.

Pate said Wayne County's rate is lower than surrounding counties because it's not as dependent on farming jobs as the rates are elsewhere, like in Wilson County, where so much industry revolves around tobacco.

"Tobacco processing becomes seasonal," Pate said. "Ours stays steady."

Wilson County's rate fell from 12.4 percent to 11.9 percent from January to February, while Lenoir County's rate dropped to 10.4 from 10.6 percent. Unemployment in Johnston County fell to 9.4 from 9.6 percent, in Duplin County from 9.5 percent to 9 percent and in Sampson County to 8.7 percent from 9.2 percent. Unemployment in Greene County remained steady at 10 percent.

For the period, the rate increased in only one county in the state -- Perquimans -- and stayed the same in six others.

The state's highest unemployment rate was 18.1 percent, in Swain County, while Orange County enjoyed the lowest rate, 6.2 percent.

"We normally do better than our surrounding counties. We've got the automotive industry here and they've done fairly well," Pate said, noting that Cooper Automotive and Uchiyama Corp. have remained steady despite the recession because Ford and Toyota have weathered the economic downturn fairly well.

Pate said the strong manufacturing firms in Wayne County help the entire local economy.

"It affects the whole community. That's people drawing salaries and spending money, plus tax revenue," he said.

Pate said he had expected the rate would go down as he has noticed fewer people filing for unemployment recently.

"I could already tell we were taking fewer claims and there was a lesser number of layoffs due to lack of work. There was also an increase of job listings," Pate said, predicting that the rate would likely drop again when the March data is released. "I can still see the trend moving in a positive direction."

And while he's optimistic, he cautioned that the rate won't suddenly bottom out.

"It's going to still be a long, slow growth, but I think we are certainly heading in the right direction."

Despite the good news concerning unemployment, the situation may become more difficult for the 4,411 out-of-work citizens in Wayne County as the state extension benefits will expire April 16.

"We've hit the trigger point," Pate said of North Carolina's balance of population and job growth, which led the federal government to remove funding of a state extension.

Following the regular term of unemployment benefits, the federal government provides for four extensions, if individuals apply before January 2012. A fifth extension, one the state received federal funding for, expires April 16, meaning no further applications or checks will be processed after that date.

Pate encouraged those who may need federal extensions to file, as the January 2012 deadline has already moved three times.