Vance jobless rate keeps improving

Things got better and worse for Vance County workers in April, according to figures released by the Employment Security Commission on Friday.

The preliminary jobless rate declined, but Vance crept closer toward regaining its unwanted longtime position as North Carolina’s unemployment capital.

Vance’s unemployment rate improved for the second consecutive month, the first such positive run since July through September last year. The jobless rate fell to 8.5 percent from 8.7 percent in March and from 9.7 percent in April 2004.

April was the eighth month out of the past nine with single-digit unemployment, a significant change in less than two years: The annual average for 2003 was 13.3 percent.

April also had Vance’s lowest unemployment rate since it was 8.1 percent in December 2000, according to ESC figures. You have to go back to 1998 to find an April with a lower rate; it was 5.3 percent that year.

Vance County has been able to absorb the layoff of more than 100 people caused by the closing of Custom Molders. It probably helped that those job cuts were spread over several months.

Rather than any significant changes in Vance, the steadily improving jobless rate appears to reflect the improving economy across North Carolina.

Still, Vance’s employment picture has negatives.

The county had 42 fewer employed people in April than in March and only improved its jobless rate because the work force shrank for the second month in a row. According to the ESC, Vance had 17,648 employed residents and 1,647 unemployed people in April. That official work force of 19,295 was down 89 people from March.

Vance had the state’s fourth-highest unemployment rate in April after ranking seventh in March.

Tyrrell County was No. 1 at 11.7 percent, but that tiny coastal county — a work force of fewer than 2,000 people — will improve dramatically as summer tourists flock to the beaches. The lowest rate was in Currituck County at 2.9 percent.

The other counties worse off than Vance are Scotland, at 9.2 percent, and Wilson, at 8.9 percent. Those rates are close enough to Vance’s that they’re within the range of monthly fluctuations, meaning that Vance could find itself No. 1 in unemployment at some point this summer despite having a generally falling jobless rate.

The ESC does not make seasonal adjustments for its county data, so the jobless figures rise and fall in somewhat predictable patterns because of factors such as the influx of students into the work force in the summer.

Statewide, the unemployment rate dropped to 5.1 percent from 5.2 percent when seasonal adjustments were excluded from the calculations. As for counties, 65 had lower rates, 18 had higher rates, and 17 were unchanged.

The jobless rate in Warren County fell to 6.7 percent from 7 percent in March, and Granville County was down to 5.9 percent from 6 percent.

“As the summer months approach, our focus will continue to be helping those who are looking for jobs and to help employers find those potential employees during one of the busiest times of the year for our state,” ESC Chairman Harry Payne Jr. said in a written comment on the latest numbers.

Statewide trends may be the keys to Vance’s recent employment improvements, rather than anything inherent to the county. Since the ESC refined its survey methods and benchmarks this year, the state has found less extreme county figures. In other words, the highs aren’t as high, and the lows aren’t as low.

Of the state’s 100 counties, 58 have unemployment rates of 5 percent to 10 percent.