Business

Unemployment surges to record in Wake, Durham

Posted March 19, 2010 10:50 a.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2010 6:39 p.m. EDT

— Unemployment surged in January to record levels in Wake and Durham counties, and also climbed to a near record in Orange County.

According to data released Friday from the North Carolina Employment Security Commission, the jobless rate in Wake County climbed to 9.2 percent, up 0.8 percent from December.

Statewide unemployment hit a record 11.1 percent in January. Records are based on employment data dating to 1976.

With unemployment topping 41,000 people, Wake County topped the record of 8.8 percent set in June and July 2009.

"Do I cry? Yeah, some days I cry. It helps release the pressure," said Yolanda Johnson, who has been looking for two years for a job in the health care industry.

"It's put a toll on me emotionally," said Nydia Nieves, who has spent more than a year looking for a job as an administrative assistant. "I need a job. I want a job. I really want to work."

In Durham, the jobless rate jumped 0.7 percent, to 8.6 percent. The previous record was 8.4 percent, reached last June and July.

More than 12,000 Durham County residents were out of work in January and receiving unemployment benefits.

Orange County, which normally has one of the state’s lowest jobless rates, didn’t escape the surge in jobless claims. Its unemployment number grew to more than 4,700, and the jobless rate increased 0.7 percent, to 6.9 percent.

The record high for Orange County was 7.1 percent, set last July.

Triangle-wide unemployment climbed to 9.3 percent, a new record, from 8.5 percent in December.

ESC Deputy Chairman David Clegg said businesses are reorganizing operations to continue operating with fewer employees.

Heavy equipment firm Caterpillar Inc., for example, announced this week that it would lay off 121 people at its Clayton plant in the coming months.

"You're going to see that a lot more. You're going to see large employers restructuring, creating that new blueprint," Clegg said.

The Raleigh-Cary and Durham-Chapel Hill metro areas also reached record unemployment levels, at 9.5 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively.

However, North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden pointed out that the unemployment picture did show some improvement when seasonal factors, such as temporary holiday season jobs, are considered.

“The job market picture in the Triangle in January was better than the headline numbers show,” Walden said. “Although the jobless rate rose, employers added 2,700 jobs (seasonally adjusted) between December and January.

“This is consistent with the seasonally adjusted job gains registered for the state,” he said. “The Triangle accounted for a third of the total state net job gains during the period.”

Walden said he also believes that the unemployment rate could climb higher.

“I think we will see continued modest improvement in the job picture in the months ahead,” he said. “However, the unemployment rate may still rise as ‘discouraged workers’ – folks without a job but who have stopped actively looking for a job and therefore aren't officially counted as unemployed – come back into the job hunt and are then counted as unemployed.”

Across the state, the ESC reported unemployment increased in all major metropolitan areas.

• Asheville – 10.1 percent, up from 8.8 percent in December

• Burlington – 13.2 percent, up from 12.1 percent

• Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill – 12.8 percent, up from 12.1 percent

• Durham-Chapel Hill – 8.4 percent, up from 7.7 percent

• Fayetteville – 9.8 percent, up from 9.3 percent

• Goldsboro – 9.9 percent, up from 9.2 percent

• Greensboro-High Point – 12.3 percent, up from 11.4 percent

• Greenville – 10.8 percent, up from 10.1 percent

• Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton – 15.8 percent, up from 14.8 percent

• Jacksonville – 8.7 percent, up from 8.2 percent

• Raleigh-Cary – 9.5 percent, up from 8.7 percent

• Rocky Mount – 14.7 percent, up from 13.9 percent.

• Wilmington – 11.6 percent, up from 10.6 percent

• Winston-Salem – 11 percent, up from 10 percent

In Raleigh-Cary, employment in professional and business services and trade, transportation and utilities both declined by 2,100 jobs. Overall, non-seasonally adjusted employment fell by 9,400, or 1.9 percent, from December.

In Durham-Chapel Hill, government jobs fell by 1,300 as part of a non-seasonally adjusted drop of 4,300 jobs.

Clegg said federal benefits have kicked in that allow workers to receive unemployment compensation for an extra six weeks.