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Nearly 1 in 6 jobless in nine NC counties

The latest unemployment figures show nine North Carolina counties now have an unemployment rate higher than 17 percent. That means nearly one in six people who want a job, can't find one. Joyce Edwards has a front row seat to the staggering unemployment statistics. She's the director of Social Services in Caldwell County where the jobless rate is now 17.5 percent. "It's probably worse than it's ever been in terms of the need in the community for citizens that have never really had to come in and get services like the Food and Nutrition program," says Edwards. The Food and Nutrition program is what the government used to call "food stamps." Last year, the number of people getting food stamps in Caldwell County grew by more than 2,000 for a total of 14,456 in December. During that same time, the county's unemployment rate climbed from 10.5 percent to more than 17 percent. The eight other counties with jobless rates at least that high are Cherokee, Graham, Swain and Rutherford to the west; Anson and Scotland in the south central part of the state; Edgecombe and Dare to the east. "Primarily these are regions that have their economies based in things like textiles, furniture and tobacco," says NC State University Economist Michael Walden. He notes those industries were already bleeding jobs and shifting overseas when the recession hit. "And even in the best of times those counties have very, very high unemployment rates," says Walden. "When you add the recession to that, that's where you can get these extremely high unemployment rates." The one exception is coastal Dare County which traditionally has very high unemployment in the winter, but swings back quickly in summer vacation months. The state's highest unemployment rate is 19.3 percent in the far western county of Graham where nearly one out of every five people looking for work can't find a job.