Opinion: Commentary: Unemployment Crisis Throughout the Commonwealth

Opinion: Commentary: Unemployment Crisis Throughout the Commonwealth

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic that is not health-related remains the ongoing unemployment crisis throughout the Commonwealth.

Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 7.3 percentage points in April to 10.6 percent, which is 7.7 points higher than the rate from just a year ago. According to household survey data in April, the number of employed residents decreased by 450,240 to 3,843,816. However, Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national rate, which recently rose to 14.7 percent.

While employment has fallen in all major industry sectors, the areas that have seen particularly heavy job losses include leisure and hospitality, which experienced a decline of 161,400 jobs in April. Nationwide, much of the decrease within the leisure and hospitality sector occurred in food services and drinking establishments, but employment also fell in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry and in the accommodation industry. This makes sense as residents nationwide, and here in the Commonwealth, have been restricting their travel to only essential trips, and nonessential recreational facilities were mandated to temporarily close to the public. Layoffs and reductions in hours for shift workers in these industries have hit residents in the 44th district hard. The best case scenario is that this job loss is only temporary, and that once reopening is in full force, these jobs will return, and residents can get back to work.

Other employment losses included education and health services (-57,400 jobs), trade and transportation (-49,100 jobs), professional and business services (-43,700 jobs), construction (-7,200 jobs), and manufacturing (-6,300 jobs). Government employment also dropped by 31,500 jobs in April. Employment in local governments was down by 19,000 jobs, and declined in state government (-11,600 jobs) while federal government jobs slipped by 900.

In April, all metropolitan areas in Virginia experienced over-the-month job losses. The largest absolute job loss occurred here in Northern Virginia (-139,000 jobs). The second largest absolute job loss occurred in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News area (-75,900 jobs), while the third hardest hit area was Richmond (-70,300 jobs).

These losses come at a time when unemployment levels in the Commonwealth were finally reaching a recovery from the Great Recession. In fact, over-the-year employment growth in Virginia had been positive for 72 consecutive months leading up to the sharp decline caused by COVID-19 in April.

According to a Stateline analysis (the Pew Charitable Trust) provided by the University of Minnesota, single mothers are particularly hard hit. In April, the number of single mothers with jobs was 22% lower than it was a year ago, compared with a 9% employment decline for other families with children, according to the analysis. Among all women, 17% have lost their jobs since the pandemic began, compared with 13% of men. Strikingly, that’s the opposite of what happened during the Great Recession, when male-dominated industries like manufacturing and construction took the biggest hits. Indeed, between 2007 and 2009, 6 million men lost jobs, compared with 2.7 million women.

You can get more information on how to apply for unemployment insurance here at the Virginia Employment Commission website: https://www.vec.virginia.gov/

From March 15th to May 7th, Virginia has paid out $563.9 million in regular unemployment insurance from the state trust fund, $1.4 billion in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, and $79.4 million in pandemic unemployment assistance. The last two amounts were paid for with federal dollars.

My office has received many requests for assistance during this crisis in regards to help with filing for unemployment relief and access to other aid resources. Please email my office at DelPKrizek@house.virginia.gov with any individual concerns. We stand ready to assist you and your family in any way that we can. I am confident that together we will defeat this virus, rebuild Virginia’s economy, and get us all back to work.