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Western North Carolina’s economy continued to improve in August

BOONE—The Western North Carolina Economic Index increased by 0.2 points in August. This was the seventh consecutive monthly gain in the index, which tracks the level of economic activity in 25 western North Carolina counties. The report is compiled by the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis at Appalachian State University and available at http://cerpa.appstate.edu.

“The August numbers showed continued positive movement, though a bit slower than in the previous two months,” said Professor Todd Cherry, director of the center and a professor in the Department of Economics in Appalachian’s Walker College of Business. “The slower growth is not a concern because the large moves in the previous two months were not sustainable. Gains in August are more in line with a solid, longer term growth rate.

The gains in WNC are even better considering the lagging numbers at the state level, Cherry said. “The employment picture for the state has deteriorated, so Western North Carolina holding steady on employment is a better sign than it appears. It is a reversal of roles because the region’s job growth has lagged behind the state since the recession,” he said.

Job growth has been better in the region than the state for the past six months. According to the report, seasonally adjusted employment for WNC decreased slightly, by less than 0.01 percent in August. Statewide adjusted employment decreased by 0.1 percent.

Eleven counties across the region experienced increases in seasonally adjusted county-level employment, with the largest gains seen in Alexander, McDowell and Burke counties, all with 0.7 percent increases. Eleven counties also experienced employment losses with Alleghany, Yancey, and Mitchell counties showing the largest employment decreases with 1.1, 0.9 and 0.9 percent decreases.

While the current government shutdown is not evident in the August report, it will likely have a negative effect in the coming months,” Cherry said. “The on-going uncertainty and repeated crises in D.C. continue to undermine the economy and have held back the recovery.”

Seasonally adjusted WNC unemployment registered 8.1 percent in August – down by 0.6 points when compared to the previous month and down 1.8 points compared to one year ago. The state unemployment rate decreased from the previous month to 8.7 percent while the national rate also fell to 7.3 percent.

“Unemployment did not increase for any county, and many experienced large decreases in rates,” Cherry said. “It’s worth reminding ourselves that great differences exist across the region, with unemployment rates ranging from 6.1 to 14.4 percent.”

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate within the region’s rural counties decreased by 0.5 points to 9.3 percent in August. In the region’s metro areas, unemployment decreased by 0.4 points to 6.3 percent in Asheville and by 0.8 points in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir to 9.1 percent.

County-level seasonally adjusted unemployment rates were highest in Graham, Swain and Rutherford counties with rates at 14.4, 11.7 and 11.3 percent, respectively. Rates were lowest in Buncombe, Henderson and Polk counties at 6.1, 6.2 and 6.3 percent, respectively.

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in August decreased in 24 of the 25 WNC counties compared to July. Caldwell, Mitchell and Graham recorded the largest decreases in unemployment rates with a 1.4, 0.9 and 0.9 point decrease, respectively. The unemployment rate in Alexander showed no change for the month, remaining at 8.1 percent.

Looking over the last 12-month period, all 25 WNC counties experienced decreases in unemployment. Unemployment rates in Swain, Graham and Caldwell decreased the most over this period by 3.4, 2.5 and 2.4 points, respectively.

Seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance in the region, a leading indicator of unemployment, increased by 12.7 percent in August. Initial claims decreased by 11.0 percent in Asheville but increased by 35.3 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

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 John W. Dawson and O. Ashton Morgan, faculty in Appalachian’s Department of Economics.

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