Recently released unemployment numbers show that Richmond County’s jobs picture was looking a little better in May than it was in April.
Statewide, the unemployment rate is 9.4 percent. The Richmond County rate declined from 12.6 percent to 12.3 percent. The job market has slowly improved over the last year in the county from 13.5 percent in May 2011, but many people are obviously still jobless.
A review of the numbers can raise a lot of questions. For example, what separates Richmond County from Currituck County, which has the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 5.2 percent? Currituck County has experienced wild swings in unemployment since 2008, with a rate of more than 10 percent in January and similar fluctuations visible in state numbers. Other counties, like Scotland, have suffered some of the highest unemployment in the state for years. Richmond County has also had high unemployment compared to the rest of North Carolina, the ninth highest in the state in April.
“I don’t know,” Richmond County Manager Rick Sago said, when asked what separated Richmond from Currituck. He said while Richmond County has experienced layoffs and closings in the past he is not aware of any recent events.
He said the County Board of Commissioners had asked an expert employed by the state of North Carolina to examine issues like this but learned little from it. Smaller scale layoffs or hiring might be happening but specifics are hard to come by.
Are these changes random fluctuations or a sign of true recovery?
An employee with Mega Force Staffing in Rockingham, who asked not to be named, said they are not aware of any specific sectors of the local economy that are looking for more workers. They said more people have come in recently looking for work and some of them have large gaps in their employment history.
Sago said the unemployment rate can fluctuate seasonally and the numbers bear this out.
Students might quit summer jobs in August and seek them out again in May or June. Some retailers gear up for the Christmas shopping season in November and then shed those workers afterward.
“There are always companies looking to hire,” Sago said. “But they can afford to be selective.” Companies without pressing vacancies might wait to see if more attractive applicants appear.
The decrease from April to May could be a sign of companies taking on seasonal workers or it could be part of the long, uneven climb to a better job market that seems to be happening in Richmond since 2010.
— Justin Allen can be reached at 704-694-2161, or firstname.lastname@example.org.