Jobless rates fall to lowest since ’08

Virginia saw a 0.2 percent decrease in its seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in December, dropping the rate to 4.8 percent, the lowest since October 2008, Gov. Terry McAuliffe reported this week.

The December decrease was the third consecutive monthly decline at the end of the year. The number of those looking for work dropped by 4.3 percent and household employment increased by 0.1 percent. Virginia remains below the national unemployment rate, which fell to 5.6 percent in December.

However, this does not mean Virginia is necessarily out of the recession woods, said Brian Coy, McAuliffe’s press secretary.

“I think the governor is very pleased with the economic progress we’re making,” Coy said. “But he’s still concerned about defense cuts, sequestration on the horizon, and if those happen, it will have a major impact on our economy.”

From November to December, seasonally adjusted employment increased in six major industries and decreased in five. The largest increase occurred in the leisure and hospitality sector, which saw 3,300 new hires, its third consecutive monthly increase.

Coy said the while the governor is happy with any job gains, he would really like to see higher paying jobs come to the commonwealth.

“As we see a lot of defense cuts, we’re losing a lot of jobs that are professional services, defense contracting and we’re replacing them with jobs in the service industry,” Coy said. “He really wants to focus on high-paying industries that are not reliant on the federal government.”

Ten Virginia metropolitan areas experienced job gains in December, with the largest being Northern Virginia, which saw a 2,500 job increase. The Winchester metropolitan area experienced a 200 job loss in December.

Coy said McAuliffe is working to get more jobs for all areas of the state, particularly those that suffered the most during the recession.

“In areas where there were changes in the manufacturing economy, such as southwest Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley, there is an extra focus there to get more jobs,” Coy said. “That’s not just McAuliffe, but previous governors as well.”

Coy added, “We need to be on the lookout for the next generation of large, innovative employers that can help build an economy in places like southwest Virginia. We’ve made a lot of gains, but we still have a long way to go to replace industries like textiles or furniture and others that have pulled out in the last 20 years.”

During December, the unadjusted workweek for manufacturing production workers decreased by half an hour to 42.6 hours, average hourly earnings rose 14 cents to $19.89 and average weekly earnings decreased by $3.92 to $847.31. In December 2013, the workweek increased by 0.3 hours, average hourly earnings rose by 46 cents and average weekly earnings increased by $25.42.

Coy said wage decreases are a major concern of the McAuliffe administration.

“There are concerns about the middle class and making sure everybody can stay in the middle class … it’s a tough problem to solve,” Coy said. “The General Assembly is not amendable to a minimum wage increase, so the best way the governor can do it is bringing in higher paying jobs.”

Contact staff writer Henry Culvyhouse at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or hculvyhouse@nvdaily.com