Unemployment in the Hickory area dropped in May but the rate was still higher than before the start of the pandemic.
The unemployment rate in the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton Metropolitan Statistical Area — which includes Caldwell, Catawba, Burke and Alexander counties — was 16 percent in May, down from 17.6 percent in April, according to N.C. Department of Commerce data.
May is the latest month for which county-level unemployment data is available. The local data typically lags behind national and state data.
Unemployment fell in all four Hickory MSA counties.
The largest drop was in Alexander County.
The May unemployment rate was 14 percent in the county, down from 20.1 percent in April when the county recorded the second-highest unemployment rate of any county in the state.
In Catawba County, the May unemployment rate was 16 percent, a decrease of 2.7 percent from the previous month.
Unemployment in Caldwell County fell from 16 percent in April to 14.6 percent in May. Burke County unemployment was 13.8 percent, down from 15.4 percent the previous month.
The Hickory area also improved its position relative to other parts of the state.
In April, the Hickory MSA had the highest unemployment rate of any of the state’s 15 metropolitan areas.
In May, the Hickory area reported the third-highest unemployment rate, better than Asheville and Fayetteville areas and slightly worse than Greensboro-High Point.
The unemployment rate in the Hickory area was still well above the 4 percent rate the area recorded in March.
Taylor Dellinger, a data analyst at the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, said the unemployment figures are indications of recovery.
He attributed the fall in unemployment to people in the manufacturing sector — and particularly those in the furniture industry — returning to work after furloughs.
Dellinger said he expects to see the drop continue with the June unemployment numbers for the area, which will be available near the end of July.
“Now, the question will be, how quickly do we gain half the jobs back or get back where we were?” Delligner said. “The first part is going to be a sharper increase and the April to May kind of shows that and I think the May to June will show a sharper increase but then after that it’s probably going to be slower.”
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