Manufacturing layoffs may have caused county’s jobless spike

Shenandoah County’s unemployment rate increase vexed local economic development and business leaders when it was reported last week. The small jump — 0.2 percent — between August 2017 and August 2018 was overshadowed by a larger increase — 0.8 percent — from July 2018 to August 2018.

Ann Lang, a senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission, shed some light on the change, breaking down exact increases in the civilian labor force. From 2017 to 2018, the civilian labor force — the employed and those seeking employment — increased by 389 in Shenandoah County. Most of those new members of the labor force got jobs, Lang said; however, 44 of them didn’t.

“You had a bigger labor force, and some of those people that entered ended up getting jobs,” Lang said, “and some are still available and seeking work. But that pushed the rate up.”

Manufacturing is the largest industry in the county, accounting for nearly 16 percent of the workforce and economic production in the area according to Statistical Atlas.

Lang said layoffs in manufacturing were the likely cause of the change but couldn’t go into detail, saying specifics were confidential.

“Perhaps it’s capturing some additional manufacturing layoff activity,” Lang said. “That may be reflective in that number.”

Labor market increases make sense according to Datausa, using American Community Survey information last gathered in 2014. Datausa shows the population and number of employees in Shenandoah County increasing.

A rising number of eligible employees is good news for the county as programs such as the online job board and job fair — both hosted by the County Chamber of Commerce — are working to match employers with employees.

Michelle Bixler, economic development director for Strasburg, was most concerned about the jump from July to August of this year. She said changes like that are uncommon and could throw off the total rate change.

Seasonally adjusted versus non-adjusted rates are important to keep in mind when looking at unemployment rates, Lang said.

“August is a transition month between the summer and fall labor markets,” she said.

From 2010 to 2016, the change in the unemployment rate in Shenandoah County bounced around, moving up or down but never by more than 0.3 percent in either direction. The 0.8 percent increase balances out the 0.7 percent decrease Shenandoah County saw over the same month-to-month period last year.

More concerning, was the 12-month change. Not only was Shenandoah County the only county in Virginia to see an increase from August 2017 to August 2018, but it was the first time the county has seen an increase of 3.3 percent since 2009.

Over the short term, areas such as Shenandoah County are not the only localities to see increases in unemployment. Two of the 10 metro areas in Virginia held steady unemployment rates from July to August 2018 while the others all experienced increases.

Looking to the future, Shenandoah County aims to drive the unemployment rate back down via economic development. Attracting companies such as TruckVault, a truck storage manufacturing company, to Mount Jackson are areas of interest.