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A work in progress, but a gift nonetheless

Rowan County and local job seekers got some real holiday cheer on Tuesday — news that the county’s unemployment rate fell in October to its lowest point in nearly seven years.

Rowan’s jobless rate was 5.6 percent, lowest since it hit 5.1 percent in April 2008, according to figures released by the N.C. Department of Commerce.  That’s down from 6.1 percent in September and 7.7 percent at the same time last year.

Moreover, the estimated number of unemployed people in Rowan dropped below 4,000 for the first time since 2008.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Labor said Tuesday that the number of jobs available nationwide rose in October to its second-highest point in 14 years, with 4.83 million jobs open. Hiring is picking up as well, with employers adding 321,000 jobs in November, the federal agency reported.

The employment figures released Tuesday looked good for most of the state and even better in some neighboring counties, including Cabarrus, which has a far larger labor force than Rowan and posted an October jobless rate of 4.9 percent. And there are more jobs to come for Cabarrus. Giant online retailer Amazon has opened a new distribution center in Concord and a European battery maker has purchased the former Philip Morris cigarette plant there, where company officials say the manufacturer could eventually employ thousands.

That’s not far to drive, and most Rowan residents would happily commute for well-paying, secure employment. But they’d probably prefer to stay closer to home for work, and the county would no doubt love to expand the tax base. Some of that’s happening, with clothing maker Gildan adding a second plant and county commissioners approving incentives last week which they hope will lure a California fuel-system manufacturer here.

The picture is not all rosy. The county’s labor force in October stood at 68,000, down from 72,000 in 2012. And some of those working are undoubtedly among the nearly 7 million Americans the federal Labor Department says are working part-time jobs but would rather be employed full time.

While the lower rate may not reflect them, or the people who have dropped off the unemployment rolls or out of the workforce, it might encourage some of them to get back into the market. And the increase in available jobs and pickup in hiring should bolster their chances of success.

That’s the hope, anyway. There wouldn’t seem to be any better Christmas gift for local families this year than the prospect of a job for everyone who wants one.

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