By Nathan Ham
While everyone is worried about their health, and rightfully so, how people are going to bounce back to normal when this COVID-19 pandemic ends is going to be a worry for millions of people across the country that have lost their jobs either temporarily or permanently.
In North Carolina, a total of 20,710 people file unemployment claims on Wednesday alone, which brings the total in North Carolina to 353,480 since March 16.
New data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center shows the percentage of each county’s working population whose jobs are in an at-risk industry.
According to the data, Watauga County has 38 percent of its working population in an at-risk profession. 19 percent of those jobs are in the accommodations and foodservice industry, 16 percent are in the retail trade industry and three percent are in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry.
The numbers are equally scary in Avery County where they also have 38 percent of the working population in an at-risk industry of job loss and/or finding work again in that industry. In the arts, entertainment and recreation industry, Avery County has the second-highest at-risk percentage in the state at 13 percent, only behind Swain County’s 41 percent. The accommodation and food services sector also has a 13-percent at-risk number of employees in Avery County. The retail industry percentage in Avery County is 12 percent.
Comparing Watauga and Avery to the rest of the state, the 38 percent at-risk employment number is sixth most out of the 100 counties. Swain County leads all locations with over half of the county’s working population (56 percent) in the at-risk category for being out of work.
Watauga has 9,332 workers in those three categories while Avery County has 2,692 workers in those categories, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of now, Watauga is listed with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent and Avery County has a rate of 4.3 percent. The state unemployment average is currently 4.1 percent.
To make things worse, the state’s website and phone network are having a hard time keeping up with the high amount of unemployment claims that have been coming in.
“That averages out to almost 1,000 claims an hour for 24 hours a day for the last 14 days. We understand for people who have lost their job, the help can’t get there soon enough. We know people have had problems accessing our system or getting through on the phones. This is not acceptable,” said Lockhart Taylor, the assistant secretary of the N.C. Department of Commerce, in a statement.
The Department of Employment Security has started upgrading servers and hiring new employees in the department’s call center.