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County unemployment rises in June, positive job growth seen in leisure and hospitality sector

SALISBURY — The unemployment rate in Rowan County rose slightly last month, increasing from 4.6% in May to 5% in June, according to data released by the N.C. Department of Commerce on Wednesday.

The county’s increase mimicking a trend seen across the state. Unemployment rates increased in all but one of North Carolina’s 100 counties during the month. With a 0.3% reduction, Dare County was the only county to see its rate drop.

Rowan County’s June unemployment rate was slightly higher than neighboring Davie (4.4%), Cabarrus (4.4%), Stanly (4.5%), Davidson (4.6%) and Iredell (4.7%) counties. In the state, Rowan County’s rate ranked 59th in June, down one spot from 60th in May.

Although Rowan County’s unemployment rate rose in June, the number was still down significantly from June 2020 when many COVID-19 restrictions were still in place and the unemployment rate ballooned to 9.5%.

The numbers released by the Department of Commerce are not seasonally adjusted, meaning that seasonal hiring patterns have not been taken into account. Without seasonal hiring considered, counties near the coast who rely on summer tourism could see more favorable unemployment numbers.

A little over 1,000 people joined the county’s job force in June. In May, 64,923 people were in the labor force, but that number increased to 66,054 in June. The number of workers employed statewide also increased in June by 53,513 to 4,790,820, while those unemployed increased by 24,549 to 246,934.

The U.S. economy in total gained 850,000 in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The biggest bounce back was in one of the industry’s hardest hit by the pandemic: leisure and hospitality. In June, employment in the sector increased by 343,000 nationally, over half of which was accounted for by a gain of 194,000 jobs at food services and drinking places. 

The national trend was reflected locally. There is not specific data that indicates changes in the labor force in Rowan County’s leisure and hospitality sector. However, the N.C. Department of Commerce did report that 7,900 jobs in the industry were added in June throughout Rowan County’s region, the Charlotte/Concord/Gastonia market.

James Meacham, director of Rowan County Tourism Development Authority, said the positive regional trend matches what he’s seeing in the county.

“We have seen growth, so there’s been a big effort in the local hospitality sector, especially with restaurants.” Meacham said. “They’ve been offering incentives, wages and things like that. We’re seeing a good pickup in labor and more people that worked in those are coming back to the marketplace, so that could also increase the size of the labor force.”

In June, leisure and hospitality added more jobs in the Charlotte/Concord/Gastonia region than any industry. That’s not surprising, Meacham said, since the sector was hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“In our sector specifically, the amount of jobs lost was so significant. We’re still, nationally, hundreds of thousands well behind the other sectors that have recovered. It had the most layoffs of any industry percentage wise. Even though it’s had the highest percentage of growth recently, it’s because it had the most layoffs.”

Anticipating a fall filled with activities, Meacham said the positive job growth in the leisure and hospitality sector is poised to continue.

“We’re already have people book overnight packages for Thomas and Polar Express for the holidays,” Meacham said. “We’re seeing demand pick back up for weekend getaways. We’re also seeing more folks just interested in general travel. A lot of our fall events are planning to get back to normal. We’ve got Cheerwine Festival in September, October Tour, Autumn Jubilee are all slated and there’s a lot of demand around those.”

With COVID-19 numbers on the rise, that could change. Although there are plenty of events scheduled for the fall, Meacham said businesses in the hospitality sector are still only “cautiously optimistic on a day-by-day basis.” 

Listed as an area with high community transmission, Rowan County is now among the counties where Centers for Disease Control is advising masks be worn indoors, even by people who are fully vaccinated.

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