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Economy Declines in April After First Quarter Gains

June 18, 2012. Western North Carolina’s economic activity declined in April, erasing earlier job growth in the region.

“We are seeing a slowdown in the regional economy. There were gains in 2012, but we’ve not been able to sustain the momentum,” said Dr. Todd Cherry, director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis (CERPA) at Appalachian State University.

Economic activity, as measured by the Western North Carolina Economic Index compiled at Appalachian, decreased by 0.3 points in April. This continued the declining trend for 2012 in the economic index, which tracks the level of economic activity in 25 western North Carolina counties.

“Regional employment is down over the last two months, which reversed seven consecutive months of job growth in the region,” Cherry said. “We are also seeing a slow decline in unemployment across the region, which is following the statewide trend.  But the story varies a great deal at the local level.”

According to the report, seasonally adjusted employment for WNC decreased by 0.6 percent in April, following a 0.3 percent drop in March. The last two months of employment decreases halted seven consecutive months of increases. Statewide adjusted employment also decreased by 0.6 percent.

Changes in seasonally adjusted county-level employment during the month remains mixed across the region, falling in 18 of the 25 counties. Yancey, McDowell and Watauga counties had the largest employment gains, with 4.6, 1.9 and 0.2 percent increases, respectively, while Alleghany, Graham, and Cherokee had the largest losses, with 2.6, 2.3 and 2.1 percent decreases, respectively.

Seasonally adjusted WNC unemployment registered 9.5 percent in April – down by 0.1 point from March. The state unemployment rate decreased by 0.3 points to 9.4 percent, while the national unemployment rate fell by 0.1 point to 8.1 percent.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate within the region’s rural counties remained unchanged at 10.8 percent in April. In the region’s metro areas, unemployment also remained unchanged in Asheville at 7.5 percent, but decreased 0.2 points to 10.6 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

County-level seasonally adjusted unemployment rates were highest in Graham, Swain, and Rutherford counties, with rates at 17.5, 13.6 and 13.4 percent, respectively. Rates were lowest in Henderson, Buncombe, and Polk counties at 6.9, 7.3 and 7.5 percent, respectively. The average unemployment rate across the region was 9.5 percent, while it was 8.1 percent at the national level.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates fell in 14 of the 25 WNC counties. Caldwell, Rutherford and Avery had the largest decreases in unemployment rates, with a 1.0, 0.8, and 0.7 point decrease, respectively. Ashe, Yancey, and Graham had the highest unemployment rate gains, with a 1.5, 1.4, and 0.9 point decrease, respectively.

During the past 12 months, all but four WNC counties experienced decreases in unemployment. Unemployment rates in Burke, Catawba, and McDowell decreased the most over this period by 2.2, 1.7 and 1.6 points, respectively while rates in Yancey, Graham, and Ashe all increased by 1.4, 1.0 and 0.4 points, respectively.

Seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance in the region, a leading indicator of unemployment, increased by 22.8 percent in April. Initial claims increased by 5.2 percent in Asheville and 25.5 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

About the report

The WNC Economic Index and Report provides a monthly account of economic conditions for the 25 counties in western North Carolina.  The WNC Economic Index and Report is a cooperative effort by the Center for Economic Research & Policy Analysis at Appalachian State University and Advantage West. The report is compiled and written by John W. Dawson and O. Ashton Morgan.