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October 23, 2014

Treading Water, but no Land in Sight

There have been a lot of rosy announcements recently about job creation in Virginia, but the big picture is that we’re not making any progress toward ensuring there are enough jobs to go around. We still have far fewer jobs than we need to keep up with the growing number of Virginia workers, and the recent pace of job creation is too slow to make a dent in the problem.

It’s like we’re working hard treading water but not getting any closer to dry land.

Virginia has added 16,000 jobs since the third quarter of 2013, according to data released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of Virginians who are employed is now just above pre-recession levels.

That’s a good thing, in and of itself. But it amounts to little when you stack it up against the number of jobs we need to keep up with the growth in the population of working-age Virginians.

Virginia’s working-age civilian population has grown 9.7 percent since December 2007. If employment levels had kept up with that growth, we’d now have 4,145,600 jobs in the state. Instead, we have just 3,775,800 jobs. That’s a 369,800 shortfall.


We’re still a long way from shore.

To make matters worse, we really haven’t made any real progress. Virginia has added an average of about 800 jobs a month for the past year. That’s a 0.021 percent monthly job growth rate. But Virginia’s working-age civilian population has been growing almost four times faster. That means we’re actually getting further from shore every month.

There’s been some argument on the national stage that we no longer need as many jobs as we did before the recession because people are dropping out of the labor force due to the aging of the baby boomers and other long-term economic and social changes. But most analyses indicate the workforce decline is largely due to discouraged workers giving up on finding jobs, not age-related factors.

And even measures that ignore workers who have dropped out of the labor force – like the official unemployment rate – show the continuing weakness in Virginia’s economy and the tough challenges facing Virginia workers. Virginia’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in August and September, up from 5.0 percent at the beginning of the year. And it’s 2.2 percentage points higher than before the recession began. That might not sound like much, but it translates to over 100,000 more unemployed Virginia residents than in December 2007.

Virginia’s policymakers and businesses are working hard treading water, but we need to use all the tools at our disposal to make real progress. That means making significant investments in the fundamental assets that build our economy, like K-12 public education and health care. Otherwise, we’re just going to stay adrift.

–Laura Goren, Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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