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Posted April 4, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Official: Temporary furloughs led to region's 9.2 percent jobless rate in Feb.

By Garren Shipley -- gshipley@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- February's nightmarish 9.2 percent unemployment number for the Winchester area is most likely a statistical aberration, not a reason to panic.

That's what Gene Schultz, head of the local Virginia Employment Commission office, told the Winchester-Frederick County Economic Development Commission on Friday.

"Part of my job is keeping things in perspective," said Schultz.

Winchester's 1.5 percentage point jump from January was the largest of all metropolitan areas of the state, and put the top of Virginia region squarely behind perennial unemployment king Danville (12.3 percent).

When reporters first called him to ask about the figure, Schultz said he was incredulous.

"There's no way, there's no way we hit 10 percent in February," he said.

A little research confirmed his initial suspicion.

Federal labor statisticians always take their readings during the same period every month -- the week of the 12th.

For Winchester and Frederick County, Schultz said, that proved to be a very inopportune week -- a number of local manufacturers were experiencing temporary shutdowns.

"Everybody hit the week of the 12th of February," Schultz said.

Based on the number of people actually in the unemployment office seeking benefits, the area's problems peaked in January, he said, not February.

"We blew out January," he said, when the local VEC office saw a record number of claimants.

Since then, things have headed back down. But that's not to say the region's economy isn't feeling the national pinch.

"Things are not great," Schultz said. But, "if you look at when the unemployment rate went up here, we didn't hit 5 percent until November," he said.

Foot traffic in the office during March was even lower than February, leading Schultz to believe that the area's unemployment rate will come in lower next month.

"Don't panic on that one number, please," he said.

Much of the economic damage seems to have come in areas like construction.

"Our work force here is about 50-50 male-female, and claims I'm seeing so far are two-thirds male. Women are not getting laid off," Schultz said.

Layoffs are also skewing toward older workers, he added. More than half have been over age 45.

Normally businesses lay off younger, less experienced workers before they let older workers go, he said. That suggests typical patterns aren't holding up.

"Manufacturing has been hit, but we're holding right now," he said. "They're generating payroll, and that's helping retail."

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