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High Country Unemployment Rates Dropping; ‘We’re in Better Shape than we Have Been for Quite a While’

By Paul T. Choate

July 6, 2012. As of the May figures, unemployment rates in Watauga, Avery and Ashe counties have been dropping since January, with Watauga more than one percentage point below the state average.

“We’re probably better now than what we have been in the last quite a while as far as jobs coming in and people going to work in those seasonal jobs coming available,” said Anita Lowe, manager of the Watauga and Avery JobLink branches. “I think the economy is getting better. It’s not by anybody’s stretch of the imagination back to what it was. It will take it a long while to do that, but we’re in better shape than we have been for quite a while.”

For May, Watauga County had an unemployment rate of 8.2 percent. Avery and Ashe counties had rates of 11.4 and 11.3 percent, respectively. This is compared to rates of 9.3 percent (Watauga), 13.4 percent (Avery) and 14.2 percent (Ashe) in January of 2012. The state average as of May was 9.4 percent. Nationally, the average was 7.9 percent.

So why are the rates dropping?

“I think it’s two-fold,” said Lowe. “Part of it is that people are going back to work. But then a small percentage of that is that people are running out of benefits as well … But a lot of it is that people are going back to work. It may not exactly be in the profession or the job that they would consider the perfect job – but going back in.”

High Country JobLink centers are doing all they can to help the unemployed citizens of the area. Lowe said the Watauga and Avery centers have started several new programs recently to help with resume development and job searching.

“We’re doing some concentrated case management in bringing people in. We’re really looking to see what they’re looking for and what we may be able to assist them with,” said Lowe.

Fluctuating rates

Unemployment rates tend to cycle up and down seasonally for the High Country due to the region being a tourist hot spot. Depending on the time of year and what is taking place in the area, the unemployment rates can fluctuate by several percentage points.

“This is that time of the year when the spring/summer seasonal-type hiring starts and is going on. So, numbers normally go lower this time of the year,” said Lowe. “They normally go up after the leaf season for a little bit of time and then that winter season heads up and they’ll go down there. As well as people going to work and hitting those seasonal jobs, this is normally a time of the year when unemployment does drop some in this area just because of the tourism and that type of thing.”

Though the headlines in the national news are pretty gloomy regarding present unemployment figures, High Country residents can take some solace in the fact that things are trending the right direction here in the mountains.

Unemployment rates around the region