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Regional unemployment fell below state averages in July

BOONE—Western North Carolina economic activity showed strong growth in July and the regional unemployment rate fell below state averages, according to the Western North Carolina Economic Index compiled by the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis at Appalachian State University.

The index rose a full point to 110.6. This was the second largest monthly gain in the index since the end of the Great Recession in 2009.

“In terms of economic activity, we’ve had six months of gains and in the past couple of months these gains have been quite strong,” said Dr. Todd Cherry, director of the center and a professor in the Department of Economics in Appalachian’s Walker College of Business. “This stronger growth is needed to lift the labor market, which remains stagnant though better than the deteriorating jobs picture at the state level.”

The Western North Carolina Economic Index tracks the level of economic activity in 25 western North Carolina counties.

Other data from July shows that seasonally adjusted employment for WNC increased by 0.35 percent. Statewide adjusted employment decreased by 0.3 percent.

Mapping the growth in employment over the preceding month provides a county-level account of job creation. Seventeen counties across the region experienced increases in seasonally adjusted county-level employment, with the largest gains seen in Yancey, Alleghany and Avery counties. Six counties experienced employment losses, with Transylvania, Watauga and McDowell counties showing the largest employment decreases.

Seasonally adjusted WNC unemployment registered 8.7 percent in July – down 0.5 points when compared to the previous month and down 1.3 points compared to one year ago. The state unemployment rate increased slightly from the previous month to 8.9 percent, while the national rate fell to 7.4 percent.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate within the region’s rural counties decreased by 0.6 points to 9.7 percent in July. In the region’s metro areas, unemployment decreased by 0.2 points to 6.8 percent in Asheville and by 0.3 points in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir to 9.9 percent.

“The large decline in unemployment is worth keeping an eye on,” Cherry said. “It put the regional unemployment rate below the statewide rate, which hasn’t happened in recent memory. The question is whether this holds up in the coming months.”

County-level seasonally adjusted unemployment rates were highest in Graham, Swain and Rutherford counties (with rates of 15.5, 12.4 and 11.9 percent, respectively). Rates were lowest in Henderson, Buncombe and Polk counties (at 6.5, 6.6 and 6.6 percent, respectively).

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in July decreased in 23 of the 25 WNC counties compared to June, with only Jackson County registering an increase in the monthly unemployment rate. Graham, Alexander and Yancey recorded the largest decreases in unemployment rates (with a 1.2, 0.9 and 0.8 point decrease, respectively). The unemployment rate in Jackson increased by 0.3 points.

During the past 12 months, 24 WNC counties experienced decreases in unemployment. Unemployment rates in Alexander, Clay and Rutherford decreased the most over this period (by 2.3, 2.0 and 1.9 points, respectively). Only Mitchell County recorded a gain in seasonally adjusted unemployment over the previous 12 months (with a 0.1 point increase).

Seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance in the region, a leading indicator of unemployment, decreased by 52.8 percent in July. Initial claims decreased by 45.3 percent in Asheville and by 59.8 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

The full report is online at

The WNC Economic Index and Report is a cooperative effort by the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis at Appalachian State University and Advantage West. The report is compiled and written by Associate Professor John W. Dawson and Associate Professor Ash Morgan from the Department of Economics.