By Andrew Riddler
Capital News Service
Virginia continues to have one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, state and federal officials said on Sept. 20.
The commonwealth’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped from 2.9 percent in July to 2.8 percent in August.
Virginia was tied with Utah and Colorado for the sixth-lowest unemployment rate last month. In July, Virginia and Colorado were tied for the seventh-lowest rate.
Virginia’s jobless rate continues to be much lower than the national average of 3.7 percent. Virginia has the third-lowest rate among states east of the Mississippi River, behind Vermont (2.1 percent) and New Hampshire (2.5 percent).
“The drop in Virginia’s unemployment rate is yet another sign that our economy remains strong and our efforts to create opportunity in every corner of the commonwealth are paying real dividends,” Gov. Ralph Northam said.
Timothy Aylor, an economist with the Virginia Employment Commission, also sees the falling rate as a strength for the state.
“Overall, as more people are able to find jobs and as people become more encouraged about the job market and re-enter it, I think that’s a good thing,” Aylor said. “It helps the state, and it helps the economy.”
Among the 18 states with the lowest unemployment rates in the country, Virginia has the largest labor force. Most of the 18 states have less than half of the labor force Virginia does. Aylor said this was a testament to the state’s economy.
“We have a highly skilled labor force. This is especially the case in some of the metro areas — Northern Virginia primarily,” Aylor said. “And this creates competition among employers as more employers take note of the quality of the workforce in the state.”
In Northern Virginia, unemployment is especially low — below the state average.
“For one reason or another, you can have a lower rate of people looking — you can have a lower rate of labor force participation — and that will kind of drive down the unemployment rate,” Aylor said.
“But that is not the case in an area like Alexandria or Arlington County in particular, where labor force participation rates are high and people are looking and finding work, and there is a lot of competition for it.”
Despite Virginia’s overall low rate, state officials affirmed their commitment to helping communities where unemployment is higher than average.
Those communities include Henry and Patrick counties and the City of Martinsville, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
The City of Martinsville’s unemployment rate is 4.5 percent, according to the July data — the most recent available from the VEC. Martinsville’s labor force is 5,531, with 5,283 employed and 248 unemployed, data showed.
The unemployment rate in Henry and Patrick counties is 3.5 percent, according to the VEC. Of Henry County’s 23,845 labor force, 23,016 are employed with 829 jobless. In Patrick, 265 of its 7,477 labor force are jobless and 7,212 are employed, the data showed.
“We’re proud of this statewide unemployment rate,” said Brian Ball, Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade. “But as some localities continue to struggle with a higher rate, the governor remains focused on bringing new investment and jobs to all regions of the commonwealth.”