Dylan LightfootStaff Writerdlightfoot@civitasmedia.com
February 3, 2013
Ashe County’s unemployment rate rose again in December to 11.6 percent, up from 10 percent in November, but down 0.7 percent over December, 2011, according to the latest figures from the N.C. Department of Commerce (DOC) Labor and Economic Analysis Division.
In a seasonal trend, the county has seen a one to two percent spike in unemployment each December since 2007.
Ashe has averaged 12.8 percent unemployment over the last four calendar years, and has not seen a rate of less than 10 percent in any month since November, 2008. But, DOC data shows a gradual decrease in county unemployment from a 16-year high of 17.1 percent in February, 2010.
The labor force decreased by 777 in December, while the number of unemployed increased by 117, according the DOC civilian labor force estimates. Of 12,136 people in Ashe’s labor force in December, 1,408 were not working.
Since 2007, Ashe’s annual average number of unemployed workers has more than doubled, from 661 to 1431, in a labor force which shrank by approximately 6 percent over the same six years.
December figures for neighboring counties were:
Unemployment rates increased in 97 of North Carolina’s 100 counties in December, decreased in one, and were unchanged in two. All of the state’s 14 metro areas saw rate increases for December, but all of them also saw over-the-year decreases.
Graham County had the highest unemployment rate at 18.5 percent, while Orange County had the lowest at 5.9 percent.
The December statewide rate was 9.5 percent, up 0.5 percent over November, but down 0.7 percent over the year. Of the state’s December labor force of 4,707,210, 444,851 were jobless.
Nationwide, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in December.
Ashe had 329 initial unemployment insurance claims in December, compared to 456 in December 2011, according to DOC Division of Employment Security (DES) data. Benefits paid in Ashe in December were $346,275.
The N.C. General Assembly began their 2013-14 session last week with unemployment reform on the Republican majority’s agenda. North Carolina owes the federal government $2.4 billion in jobless benefits, and state unemployment stubbornly hovers 2 points above the national average.
House Bill 4, filed on Jan. 30 and currently in committee, is entitled “An Act to Address the Unemployment Insurance Debt and to Focus North Carolina’s Unemployment Insurance Program on Putting Claimants Back to Work.” The bill contains provisions for reduction of maximum weekly unemployment benefits, shortening the duration of benefits, and increasing employer contributions.
Under the current version of HB 4, claimant’s “weekly benefit amount may not exceed ($350).” North Carolina’s current maximum weekly benefit is $535, the highest paid in the southeast.
The minimum and maximum duration of benefits would adjust according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusted unemployment rate under HB 4.
If the unemployment rate is 5.5 percent or less, the minimum number of weeks of coverage would be 5, the maximum 12. Given unemployment of 9 percent or greater, the minimum number of weeks of coverage would be 13, the maximum 20.
The bill also proposes increasing employer contributions by raising rates for State Unemployment Tax Assessment (SUTA).
A minimum employer contribution of 0.06 percent is proposed by HB 4. The current minimum is zero percent, with the maximum 5.76 percent.
A surtax of an additional 20 percent of employer’s total SUTA contribution is also proposed.