Mountain-Area Unemployment Rises, but the Asheville Metro Remains Lowest in the State

Unemployment rates were recently released for North Carolina, and the Asheville metro fared better than any other area of the state.

It is common for unemployment to trend up during the post-holiday months before construction and tourism see a seasonal rebound. This year is proving no different than normal. January unemployment rates increased for every county across the state from the month before. However, the rate in each county was still lower year over year than the rate for January 2016.

In Buncombe County, the unemployment rate was 4.3% in January, up from 3.7% in December, but down from 4.4% in January 2016. This is the lowest rate among all counties in the state. The average rate across North Carolina was 5.5% in January.

The jobless rate in the Asheville metropolitan area (Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, and Madison counties) was also the lowest metro rate in NC at 4.6%.

These low numbers come at a time when the workforce in the area continues to grow. The Asheville metro workforce rate, which includes people working and those looking for work, was up 1.8% over January 2016.

The Mountain Area Workforce Development Board laid out the numbers:

Mountain-Area Unemployment Rises, but the Asheville Metro Remains Lowest in the State


As can be inferred from the mountain county unemployment rates below, job creation is largely tied to urban growth. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Western North Carolina’s two most populous counties have seen the most rapid growth in the region so far this decade, while six of the region’s smaller counties actually lost population, according to a recent article in the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Measurements taken from July 2010–July 2016 show that Buncombe County’s 7.2% growth led the region, followed by Henderson County at 6.8%. WNC’s overall population growth of 3.6% from 2010–2016 was less than the state (6.2%) and the U.S. (4.4%). This is largely due to surrounding counties with declining populations and depressed economic growth.

Actually reducing in population during this timeframe were Avery, Graham, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, and Yancey counties. Several of these declining counties, including Graham with the fourth highest unemployment in the state (9.7%), reinforce national trends in which urban and suburban counties are gaining residents while rural ones see stagnant or declining populations.

No immediate solutions are available for these trends. However, mountain counties are being proactive in building job opportunities for young workers in the face of declining opportunities in traditional industries like furniture and textiles. According to the AC-T, counties are making efforts to help students learn how to start their own businesses to boost the local economy and give young people another way to stay in their communities.

Unemployment by the Numbers

Here are unemployment rates for January 2017 in Western North Carolina counties:

Avery, 5.9%

Buncombe, 4.3%

Cherokee, 6.3%

Clay, 6.1%

Graham, 10.6%

Haywood, 5.3%

Henderson, 4.7%

Jackson, 6.4%

Macon, 5.2%

Madison, 5.6%

McDowell, 5.2%

Mitchell, 7.2%

Polk, 5.0%

Rutherford, 7.4%

Swain, 7.7%

Transylvania, 5.7%

Yancey, 6.0%



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