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Posted March 14, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Winchester-area unemployment reaches 16-year high

By James Heffernan


Winchester-area unemployment spiked to 7.7 percent in January, the region's highest rate in 16 years.

More than 800 new jobless claims were filed locally in the December-to-January period, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

Job losses were spread among nearly every employment sector. Only federal government jobs posted a net gain (100) during the 30-day period.

Winchester, which for employment purposes includes Frederick County and Hampshire County, W.Va., tied with Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford for the second-highest unemployment rate among Virginia metro areas in January. Danville, at 14 percent, had the highest rate.

"Most areas of the state are rising in proportion to each other," said VEC Chief Economist William F. Mezger. But the Northern Shenandoah Valley has been especially hard hit by the downturn in the construction and automotive industries, he said.

"The manufacturers supplying those industries seem to be having a lot of temporary furloughs," Mezger said, adding, "A lot of manufacturers took off the entire month of December and didn't go back to work until after the [Martin Luther King Jr.] holiday."

In addition, the local services industry appears to have slowed, he said. That sector, which had been a bright spot as recently as last summer, shed 1,200 jobs from December to January, many of them in retail.

January data for individual jurisdictions was not available at press time.

Statewide, unemployment climbed from a revised 5.1 percent in December to 6.4 percent in January.

Because of the recession, unemployment is likely to remain high for much of the first quarter, slacken in the spring, then rise again during the summer as students and graduates enter the work force, Mezger said.

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