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July 23, 2015

A Spring Forward in Jobs, But Still Need More

Jobs in Virginia are coming back, and doing so at a faster rate. But we’re not out of the woods, as hundreds of thousands of people continue to look for employment.

Virginia’s public and private employers added 38,900 jobs this spring, a strong growth rate that means Virginia finally has as many jobs as before the recession started in 2007. And unlike much of 2014, this jobs growth came in at a faster pace than in the country as a whole. This is good news, because for a long six years of intense recession and sluggish recovery, Virginia was at or below December 2007 jobs levels.

Despite the jobs growth, the number of unemployed Virginians – people without jobs who were actively looking for work – increased slightly this spring. This small change might be due to random month-to-month variation in the data, or it might mean that some Virginians who had given up on looking for work are starting to get back into the labor force, which would be a good sign for Virginia’s economy.

But a closer look reveals problems for job seekers. Back in December 2007, there were 64 jobs in Virginia for every 100 Virginians age 16 or older (not counting those in the military). But as of this June, the most recently available data, there were less than 59 jobs for every 100 of them. In order to return to the same ratio of jobs to working-age civilian population as before the recession, Virginia would need an additional 342,300 jobs. That’s a big gap.

Although there are other factors at play, the lack of jobs is a major reason a smaller share of adult Americans–and Virginians–who are working today. Even if you don’t count Virginia workers who have given up on searching for a job, there are still 208,800 unemployed Virginians, 66,000 more than before the recession began. And the state’s unemployment rate remains well above pre-recession levels.

Our recent growth in jobs is a very good thing for Virginia’s workers, families, and communities, and we should celebrate that. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that too many Virginians still can’t find work, or have given up on looking altogether. Good times aren’t quite here again.

Levi Goren

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