Earlier today, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released unemployment data for the nation’s 372 largest metropolitan areas for the month of May. The data for North Carolina’s 14 largest urban areas was not a suprise. The NC Employment Security Commission released the data last Friday. What was a surprise was to see how North Carolina’s metro areas are faring relative to the rest of the nation. The comparisons are not flattering, particularly for two communities. The Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area experienced the 3rd largest percentage point increase in unemployment out of the 372 metropolitan areas, seeing its unemployment rate rise to a staggering 15.4%, fully 8.4 percentage points higher than one year ago. Leading the way, and supporting the theories that recessions exacerbate trends already in place, the Hickory area lost 14.9 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the past year. Of the 49 metropolitan areas with a Census 2000 population estimate greater than 1 million, the Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord area had the 3rd highest unemployment rate at 12%. While that area has also lost manufacturing jobs (9.3% decrease), the steepest jobs losses were in Natural Resources, Mining and Construction (19.7% decrease) and Professional and Business Services (10.4% decrease).
This data makes it even more imperative that state leaders agree on a two-year budget as soon as possible. Now is not the time to shutter the doors of the state’s 58 community colleges to laid-off workers who want to acquire new skills. Nor is it the time to freeze enrollment in the State’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, as two-income families become one-income families and as full-time workers accept part-time employment at significantly lower wages.