Unemployment rate falls while wages rise

Shenandoah County enjoyed a return to a below average unemployment rate as it dropped nearly 1 percent from 3.6 in August to 2.7  in September 2018. The Virginia Employment Commission released area numbers for unemployment on Tuesday afternoon.

Virginia’s total unemployment rate was 2.8 percent in September. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released national numbers for October on Friday, showing unemployment trends remaining steady while wages slowly increased.

National unemployment numbers are seasonally adjusted, but Virginia’s figures are not adjusted. Virginia’s rate has continued to fall for the last three months and is well below the national rate of 3.7 percent.

Sharon Baroncelli, executive director of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleased to see the unemployment rate level out after August’s spike.

“That’s what we had been seeing in the community,” Baroncelli said. “Seeing and hearing with our large employers in particular. It’s great that has been captured accurately. More folks are working. That’s wonderful news.”

National unemployment trends have remained steady as approximately 6.1 million remain unemployed persons. Unemployment is more than not having a job but requires someone to have attempted to look for work in the last month.

Not counted in unemployment numbers, including the unemployment rate, are discouraged workers — individuals who have stopped looking for work, believing there are no jobs available for them. Discouraged worker numbers also remain unchanged for the most part at 506,000. However, discouraged worker data is not seasonally adjusted.

Along with unemployment continuing to drop, wages are starting to rise. Incremental increases have contributed to average hourly earnings going up 83 cents, or 3.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Baroncelli said she didn’t have updated statistics on the county’s wages but the Chamber of Commerce has been conducting a survey to measure them. The last survey of its kind was completed more than 10 years ago, so Shenandoah County and other regional chambers are working to find the most up to date figures on wages and benefits. The survey will close on Friday.

Anecdotal evidence suggests wages should be on the rise, Baroncelli said. During a job fair hosted by the chamber last month, Baroncelli said she heard employers saying that because large manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and Amazon have starting hourly wages around $18, they would have to increase their base wages as well to keep up.

Wages are rising, but the cause is unclear. Gary Steinberg, a Bureau of Labor Statistics press officer, said the bureau doesn’t comment or speculate on wage increases.

“We don’t ask why,” Steinberg said. “We can show you over time what happened, but we don’t provide any commentary as to why.”

Exceptions are made, Steinberg said, if the bureau can point to a specific event that points to a change in wages.

According to the bureau’s employment cost index, wages and salaries increased 2.9 percent from September 2017 to September 2018. The index does not account for inflation, but that increase is the highest since 2008.

So far, 2018 has been a good year for workers as a whole as wages and salaries have slowly climbed since Jan. 1, inching up by 0.1 percent each quarter.

Virginia’s October statewide figures will be released on Nov. 16.