Dare County unemployment hits highest mark in 30 years

Unemployment claims exploded in Dare County as businesses completely shut their doors or significantly cut pay for workers that stayed on as the COVID-19 pandemic set-in, spiking to levels not seen in three decades.

The state Department of Commerce reported Wednesday the unemployment rate for April was 24.5 percent, eclipsing the previous high mark of 21.3 percent set in January 2012.

Out of a work force of 20,221 in Dare County, 4,949 were unemployed in April according to the state. That was the highest jobless percentage of any of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which date back only to 1990, show its just the fifth time the jobless rate has topped 20 percent in Dare County.

The unemployment rate averaged 5.9 percent bewteen 1990 and 2019. Prior to this year, the highest unemployment rate in Dare County for April was in 2011 at 12.3 percent.

Access to the Outer Banks was restricted to just residents and most workers from March 17 to May 22, while non-resident property owners were banned from entering from March 20 until early May.

That led to most tourism-based businesses from Corolla to Ocracoke to extend their seasonal closures beyond the traditional late-March or early April openings.

Restaurants and others were also shutdown by the state in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The data released Wednesday does not breakdown the number of residents that had their claims either approved or denied by the state.

Some residents of northeastern North Carolina who kept their jobs while their salaries were cut due to the financial strain on employers during the pandemic have told OBX Today they were denied payments because they were still making more than $350 a week.

The numbers released by the N.C. Department of Commerce only reflect those who were able to successfully file a claim, after North Carolina’s unemployment system was overwhelmed starting in mid-March.

Most spent hours waiting on the phone or repeatedly dealing with the state’s website crashing while working on their claim in the weeks after layoffs started hitting across North Carolina.

Dare County had the most first-time claims in April in northeastern North Carolina, with a total of 3,370, including 2,298 workers saying the coronavirus was to blame for their job loss.

That pushed the total number in Dare County who reported to the state they were out of work because of the coronavirus at some point in March or April to 4,604.

Hyde County’s unemployment rate for April was at 14.8 percent, while Currituck was at 13.4 percent. The statewide average was 12.5 percent.

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Sam Walker is news director for OBXToday.com, Beach 104, 99.1 The Sound, Big 94.5 and Classic Rock 92.3. Reach him at [email protected]com