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January 21, 2013

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released monthly jobs and unemployment numbers Friday that showed a small tick downward in both the number of jobs in Virginia and the unemployment rate—a contradictory story that may have been caused by differences in the surveys  used to calculate those two numbers or by normal statistical “noise.”

If we take a slightly longer view and look over the last quarter instead of just one month, we see that Virginia has seen a small improvement in its jobs picture over the last quarter (October, November, and December 2012).

But that improvement is moderated by the fact that we’re adding nowhere near the number of jobs we need to keep up with growth in our state’s working-age population. This means that while we are inching our way back to pre-recession job numbers, we’re making almost no progress on filling the bigger gap in the share of the working-age population with jobs.

On average, there were 3.74 million jobs in Virginia in the fourth quarter of 2012. That’s up 0.4 percent from the third quarter and 1.0 percent from a year ago.  However, Virginia’s working-age population grew 0.3 percent since the third quarter and 1.0 percent from a year ago.

To get a sense of the magnitude of the problem, in order to close the gap in the next three years, we’d have to add over 12,000 jobs every month. But over the last three months, our average monthly job growth has been just 1,500 jobs. Our average increase over the past year was only 2,600 jobs.

Virginia’s unemployment rate averaged 5.6 percent in the last three months, an improvement from 5.9 percent the prior quarter and 6.2 percent a year ago. However, there are still about 240,000 unemployed workers in Virginia, up more than 110,000 workers from the end of the recession. 

The Commonwealth Institute

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