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Newcomers add to the Charlotte region's unemployment

Lynn Smith hspace=4
Lynn Smith hspace=4

The Charlotte region's unemployment rate has nearly doubled to 10.5 percent in the past year. It's expected be even higher when new numbers are released this week. But people are still moving here with and without jobs.

Lynn and Richard Smith moved from the Flint, Michigan area to Charlotte last October. Richard had just been laid off from Ford. But they were already thinking about moving to Charlotte, so the Smiths saw this as an opportunity.

"When we came down here we thought two or three months we'd have a job. Then when the economy took the plunge that whole idea changed and it came to the realization in January that this is going to be longer than we think," says Lynn.

The Charlotte area has a lot of people like the Smiths, according to Wachovia Senior Economist Mark Vitner. "To a much greater degree than other states we're importing unemployment from other parts of the country as people continue to move here because they believe the economy is stronger here and that the region has better long-run prospect than many of the other parts of the country," explains Vitner. In fact, Vitner estimates newcomers account for one to two percent of the region's unemployment rate. The Department of Labor doesn't track unemployment among newcomers. But Vitner arrived at his estimate by analyzing census and labor statistics. He says people don't seem to pay attention to figures that show Charlotte has the fourth highest unemployment rate for metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people.

"They're still reading old reports in Fortune magazine and Money magazine that talk about what a great place Charlotte is. And it is a great place, but things have slowed," adds Vitner.

Lynn Smith understands Charlotte's predicament now: "We had to laugh one day when on the news they were talking about Charlotte's unemployment going way up and they were expecting 13 percent by the end of the year. I looked at my husband and laughed, 'I said can you believe this! We left MI and it was at 12 percent and now we're in a new community and it's expected to be 13 percent."

But the Smiths haven't shared these numbers with their friends back in Michigan. "I haven't mentioned the projected unemployment rate because I don't want them to sit there and laugh. But what I do say is, 'Oh, I'm sitting here on my deck and the sun is shining and it's a wonderful blue day,'" laughs Lynn. Lynn says some of her friends are even thinking of moving down here. And she tells them she's happy she made the move, after all it's worse in Flint and she believes Charlotte will be among the first cities to bounce back.