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North Carolina unemployment rate increases to 12% amid COVID-19

By Jonathan Drew, Associated Press

North Carolina’s unemployment rate ballooned to a record 12% in April amid the coronavirus-related economic slowdown, state officials said Friday, as some restrictions on businesses were set to loosen.

The seasonally adjusted rate of 12.2% represents a nearly 8-point increase from March. The national rate for April was 14.7%.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said it’s the highest seasonally adjusted rate for North Carolina since 1976 when it began keeping records in the manner it currently does. Numerous other states also hit records. The previous North Carolina record was 11.4% for multiple months in 2010, according to state data.

The number of unemployed grew by nearly 360,000, more than doubling the March tally. The industry hit the hardest was leisure and hospitality, which declined by about 250,000 over the month.

The state was beginning a second phase of reopening Friday afternoon that will allow restaurants to serve dine-in patrons at half-capacity and barbers and hair salons to cut hair under social distancing requirements. However, some businesses including bars and gyms must remain closed.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters that his administration is looking closely at virus trends as it guides the gradual reopening, because it’s important that customers feel safe enough to return to businesses that are reopening.

“We’ve got to make sure that people have confidence to be able to go out into the economy,” he said.

He added that his administration is “using the data to make decisions about when it’s safe to do more easing of the restrictions. And when people know that’s what we’re using to make decisions — not emotions, not politics — but science and data, people will have more confidence”

Earlier in the day, Cooper and the state health secretary briefed a bipartisan group of elected officials known as the Council of State on the state’s response to COVID-19.

Among the Republicans who have urged a faster easing of restrictions is Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who’s running against Cooper in the governor’s race this fall.

“It’s time to trust the good people of North Carolina to make wise decisions for themselves. Whether it is restaurants, gyms or bars we can choose to go or stay home. That’s called Freedom,” Forest tweeted Friday.

On Friday, health officials reported more than 21,600 virus cases statewide, an increase of about 750 from the previous day. There are about 730 deaths and 570 hospitalizations.

Also Friday, state House Speaker Tim Moore announced a bipartisan bill to increase funding and flexibility for 2020 elections as officials face pandemic-related challenges. The bill sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats reduces the amount of witnesses needed for absentee ballot submissions from two to one, increases means of requesting absentee ballots including an online portal, provides federal funds for in-person voting and increases flexibility for recruiting precinct officials.

Moore’s office said the legislation “provides funding for elections boards and adjusts current law to address potential difficulties posed by the recent pandemic.”

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