Jobless rates volatile

Published 12:32 am Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sluggish economy leads to uncertainty in employment

An unemployment rate hovering around the 11-percent mark and a sluggish economy contributing to that unemployment rate in 2011 come in as the No. 7 story in the Washington Daily News’ coverage area for 2011.

In January, Beaufort County’s jobless rate was at 11 percent. In February, the jobless rate fell to 10.8 percent. The jobless rate for March was 10.2 percent, followed by 10.3 percent in April, 10.5 percent in May, 11.1 percent in June, 11.3 percent in July, 11.5 percent in August, 11.3 percent in September and 10.6 percent in October. The jobless rates for November and December won’t be released until after Jan. 1, 2012.

Layoffs at Fountain Powerboats and the havoc caused by Hurricane Irene contributed to the continuing unemployment woes in the area.

In October, Patrick Oswalt, manager of the N.C. Division of Employment Security office in Washington, said the uncertainty over the future – short-term and long-term – of Fountain Powerboats further clouds the employment picture. In the fall, Fountain implemented temporary layoffs, he said. There were fears those layoffs could become permanent.

In the fall, legal issues, including claims and counterclaims concerning money, resulted in Fountain employees being sent home until further notice.

During 2011, the filing of claims for unemployment-insurance benefits continued to be steady, Oswalt said.

“Our big increase has been in disaster unemployment relief … with the farmers and commercial fishermen,” Oswalt said in the days after Hurricane Irene hit the area.

The jobless figures released by NCDES do not include unemployed people whose unemployment insurance benefits expired and who are not listed as unemployed. Factor in those people and the county’s true jobless rate is higher.

As he said throughout the year, Oswalt expects jobless rates in the counties served by the Washington office to remain at current levels, with any changes amounting to just a few tenths of a percentage point each month. During the year, area employers did not indicate they would be hiring enough people to result in any significant job growth, he said.

When state government agencies and public schools began laying off employees because of cuts to the state budget, the loss of the jobs had some impact on jobless rates throughout the state, Oswalt said.

With the sluggish economy resulting in less revenue for local governments, those governments faced some tough financial decisions as they crafted their budgets for the current fiscal year. Some of those decisions centered around funding for “outside” agencies such as nonprofit, charitable groups and organizations such as the Beaufort County Arts Council.

With the city facing declining revenues, in part because of the lingering effects of the Great Recession, Washington Mayor Pro Tempore Bobby Roberson said this past spring, the city must take a close look at requests for funding from nonprofits and outside agencies.

“My recommendation is not to fund at the same levels as in previous years,” Roberson said then.

“There probably will be some cuts, I don’t know if we will eliminate any funding,” Roberson said then, but he did not rule out that some funding could be eliminated.

Roberson said he believes the city should provide enough advance notice to nonprofits and outside agencies if it plans to greatly reduce or eliminate the funding they receive from the city.

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, during its budget deliberations in the spring, discussed eliminating funding for the Beaufort County Arts Council and other “outside” agencies. Eventually, the board relented and provided some funding for the arts council.

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About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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