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WNC’s rural counties continue to experience greatest job losses

BOONE—Western North Carolina lost jobs for the sixth consecutive month in October, according to data in the Western North Carolina Economic Index and Report compiled at Appalachian State University. The region’s economic activity fell 0.1 percent in October, which follows a 0.5 decline (revised) in September and no movement in July and August.

Seasonally adjusted employment for western North Carolina decreased 0.55 percent in October. The region has lost jobs in 22 of the past 23 months. Statewide adjusted employment fell 0.1 percent in October. The index, which tracks the level of economic activity in 25 western North Carolina counties, is down 2.0 over the previous 12 months.

“Rural parts of the region continue to struggle more than the rest of the region, which was the case in the 2001 recession,” said Todd Cherry, a co-author of the Western North Carolina Economic Report and director of the Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis at Appalachian.

“While there were job gains in eight of the 25 counties, job losses continue to be a problem,” Cherry said. “The region lost another 3,000 jobs in October. It may be some time before we begin seeing broad-based growth in regional employment.”

The seasonally adjusted WNC unemployment rate registered 12.4 percent in October—up 0.2 points from September. The state unemployment rate also increased 0.2 points to 11.0 percent. The national unemployment rate registered 10.2 percent—up 0.4 points from September (revised).

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate within the region’s rural counties registered 13.2 percent in October, up 0.7 points from September. In the region’s metro areas, unemployment increased 0.2 points in Asheville to 9.6 percent and increased 0.3 points in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir to 15.5 percent.

County-level seasonally adjusted unemployment increased in October, with unemployment rates increasing in 19 of the 25 WNC counties.

Twenty-four of the 25 counties had unemployment rates above 9 percent (up from 22 counties in September), 16 counties had rates over 12 percent (up from 13 counties), and seven counties had rates over 15 percent, up from six counties the previous month.

During the past 12 months, county-level unemployment in the WNC region has increased an average of 5.27 points.

Graham, Rutherford and Cherokee counties had the highest unemployment rates in the region in October (18.56, 17.12 and 16.99 percent). Watauga, Buncombe and Polk counties had the lowest unemployment rates for the month (8.16, 9.17 and 9.46 percent).

Over the past 12 months, Graham and Caldwell counties had the largest increases in unemployment rates (8.93 and 7.54 points). Avery and Watauga counties have had the smallest increases in rates over the previous 12 months (3.35 and 3.38 points).

Seasonally adjusted employment increased in eight of the 25 WNC counties in October, up from three counties in September. Alleghany, Mitchell and Watauga counties had the largest gains in employment (1.85, 0.90 and 0.80 percent). Rutherford and Graham counties had the largest job losses (8.06 and 7.93 percent).

Seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance in the region, a leading indicator of unemployment, fell 29.2 percent in October. Initial claims decreased 35.5 percent in Asheville and decreased 11.1 percent in Hickory-Morganton-Lenoir.

The WNC Index provides a monthly account of economic conditions for western North Carolina and is typically released the fifth week following each month.  For more information, visit

The WNC Index and Report is a cooperative effort by AdvantageWest-North Carolina and Appalachian’s Center for Economic Research and Policy Analysis.