Jobless rate hits five-year low

Published 10:11 am Wednesday, January 30, 2013


The news that the unemployment rate is at a five-year low doesn’t impress Melinda Keys, 44. Though employed as a caterer, the Franklin resident doesn’t believe she’s better off than five years ago. -- STEPHEN H. COWLES/TIDEWATER NEWS

FRANKLIN—Although the nation’s unemployment rate recently dropped to a five-year low of 7.8 percent, Steve Cole still hopes to see the economy improve.

“I don’t like how the economy is going, and lots of people are struggling; they’re having a hard time,” the Franklin man said. “Hopefully, the economy will improve.”

As for Cole, things are going well.

His business, Cole Fence, keeps him busy enough at 20 to 30 hours a week and allows the 66-year-old to employ two part-timers. One of his recent projects involved installing a fence at Enviva Pellets Southampton, a $91 million plant under construction at the Turner Tract Industrial Park along Rose Valley Road outside Franklin. The plant will create 72 jobs with startup planned for later this year.

His wife, Chris, is a housewife and retired from nursing and substitute teaching. Their children, Troy Cole and Wendy Miller, both living in Richmond, are also in stable condition career-wise. He works for Equifax and she for Capital One.

News of the employment picture improving across the nation didn’t spell good news for Melinda Keys of Franklin, where 10.2 percent of residents are out of work, according to the latest figures from the Virginia Employment Commission; Southampton County’s unemployment rate was 6.3 percent and Isle of Wight County, 5.1 percent.

“I’m not better off (than I was in 2008),” the 44-year-old said. “The costs are higher and I’m not making the money like I used to.”

Keys has been working as a caterer for about eight years. Previously the mother of three worked at what’s now America’s Best Value Inn in Franklin.

C.J. Sears also said he isn’t faring better compared to five years ago.

“I’m doing OK in the stock market, but as far as the cost of living, ‘no,’” said the 32-year-old owner of the ABC Storage on Armory Drive. “Also, business is down.”

In contrast, Joe Stephens of Sedley feels more confident.

“I think I’m better off,” said the 75-year-old semi-retired construction worker. “I’m OK with it.”