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Editorial: Not much good news in April numbers

There was some good COVID-19 news on the jobs front nationwide last week when the Labor Department announced the unemployment rate dropped in May to 13.3% from its previous 14.7%.

That decrease provides cold comfort for a nation and a community in Rowan County still reeling from COVID-19 shutdowns. But, with the recognition that the unemployment rate is not a perfect measure, it could be the first sign that the COVID-19 recession is exiting its lowest point.

The national number, though, says little to nothing about our state and local economy for which April is still the most recent data available. The N.C. Department of Commerce released numbers last week showing 14.4% of people in the county were unemployed in April — a massive jump from the prior month and an even larger increase from the same time last year when the unemployment rate was 3.6%.

The following numbers are unemployment rates in April for neighboring counties:

• Cabarrus: 12.3%

• Davie: 13.2%

• Davidson: 13.5%

• Iredell: 14.2%

• Stanly: 9.9%

Put another way, Rowan County’s unemployment rate and the degree to which it has been affected by COVID-19 shutdowns is more severe than any neighboring county. And, to be clear, most people who are filing for unemployment say their jobless status was caused by COVID-19.

In the Salisbury Post, readers have seen plenty about the effects of shutdowns on businesses like retail shops and restaurants. Unemployment insurance data from April, however, shows the largest number of claimants among new and continued cases were in manufacturing. There were 2,043 continued claims and 1,495 new claims.

But leisure and hospitality is next when considering both new and continued claims. April numbers show 1,146 continued claims and 731 initial claims.

The layoffs are hitting 25- to 34-year-olds the hardest, closely following by other prime-age working years. The racial breakdown is for new claims is 67.1% white, 20.8% black, 6.1% other and 6% unknown. For continued claims, the numbers are 69% white, 20.7% black, 4.9% other and 5.4% unknown.

Good news in hard to come by in the April data available for individual counties.

More businesses have opened, though, in the month that’s followed. And there’s reason to believe that May’s numbers will be slightly better when they are released in late June.

For now and to ensure that any momentum continues, businesses must put safeguards in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That could be as simple as putting clear shields in place for employees who deal with the public, allowing people to work from home if possible, providing masks for all employees and making hand sanitizer readily available in the office.

Everyone has a role in play in ensuring that our economy can continue its current state of “openness.” That includes people who run businesses.

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