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Manufacturing layoffs hurt rural regions, report says.

By Jennifer Whytock

RALEIGH, N.C. [05.27.04] – While North Carolina’s jobless rate fell in 2003, continuing growth in manufacturing layoffs hurt rural counties and kept the state’s overall unemployment rate above the U.S. average for the third straight year.

Compared to a U.S. rate of 6 percent, the state’s unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent in 2003 from 6.8 percent a year earlier, but still exceeded the state rate of 5.6 percent in 2001, says the N.C. Rural Center in its North Carolina Rural Economy Spring 2004 report.

North Carolina’s jobless ranking in 2003 fell to 10th highest in the U.S. from 12th lowest five years ago, says Catherine Moga, research associate at the Rural Center.

“There has been a tremendous number of losses in manufacturing, especially textile and apparel, and North Carolina had a high portion of these low-skilled jobs,” she says, “and that is one of the reasons why our rank compared to the U.S. is so low.”

In rural North Carolina, the unemployment rate fell to 7.1 percent in 2003 from 7.6 percent a year earlier, although nearly 140,000 people in rural areas were unemployed at the start of 2004.

Twenty-six rural counties posted higher jobless rates in 2003, including rates of 10 percent or higher in Anson, Cleveland, Edgecombe, Montgomery, Richmond, Robeson, Rutherford, Scotland, Tyrrell and Vance counties, she says.

At 13.3 percent, Vance County had the highest unemployment rate in the state in 2003, and has been one of the highest since 2001, she says.

“From 2000 to 2003, Vance County has had a lot of factory closures, particularly in yarn, hosiery and tobacco manufacturing,” she says.

Nearly 47,000 North Carolinians lost their jobs in 2003, compared to nearly 40,000 in 2002, with textile factories accounting for 27 percent of layoffs, followed by furniture manufacturers.

Between March 2001 and January 2004, the state lost 144,100 jobs, including 139,100 in manufacturing, and many of these will not return because some factories shut down permanently, Moga says.

Some workers who lost manufacturing jobs are finding work in the growing service sector, including retail, tourism, education and health care, she says, but the pay often is lower than their previous manufacturing jobs.

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