Virginia’s unemployment rate hits 1992 level

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Print this page Emily C. Dooley, Media General News Service

Virginia’s unemployment rate spiked to 6.4 percent in January, a rate not seen here since June 1992.

The increase from 5.1 percent in December comes after about 51,700 people lost jobs during the first month of the year, according to data released by the Virginia Employment Commission yesterday.

A year ago, the seasonally unadjusted jobless rate was 3.6 percent.

The increase amounts to more than 115,000 additional people forced out of work over a dozen months.

“I’d say maybe half of it is the seasonal decline and the other half of it the slow business condition,” said William F. Mezger, the commission’s chief economist. January typically has high unemployment, but extended manufacturing furloughs and the recession added to the pain, he said.

While high, Virginia’s jobless rate was below the January national average, not seasonally adjusted, of 8.5 percent.

All 10 metropolitan statistical areas saw a jump in the unemployment rate, with the Danville area hitting 14 percent, the highest metro rate in the state.

The city of Williamsburg had the highest jobless rate of all localities in the state — 19.5 percent, up from 12.4 percent a month earlier. Much of the spike in that historic city is because of slumps in lodging, tourism and retail activity after the holidays, said Christine Chmura of Chmura Economics & Analytics in Richmond.

The Richmond-area jobless rate hit 6.9 percent, up from 5.6 percent a month earlier. A year ago, the unemployment rate in Richmond was 3.8 percent.

As with the rest of the state, losses came across many sectors, Mezger said. In the Richmond area, manufacturing, retail, insurance and financial companies cut jobs.

“We’ve never had, in my memory of 32 years [on the job], all of the sectors hit simultaneously,” said George T. Drumwright Jr., deputy county manager for Henrico County. “We’ve seen it all over, and it’s something people have never experienced.”

The city of Petersburg had the highest unemployment rate in the area and the fifth- highest in the commonwealth.

Unemployment rose to 13.5 percent in January, more than double the rate of a year ago, when Petersburg had 6.8 percent unemployment.

The number of people seeking job advice at the Goodwill of Central Virginia’s community employment center in Petersburg has been increasing.

In January, the agency saw 168 new clients. Last month, the number hit 227, said Sophie Williams, Goodwill’s operations manager for career development services.

“Most of the people that are coming in are laid off from manufacturing and retail,” she said.

Meantime, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released seasonally adjusted numbers on Wednesday.

The jobless rate for Virginia, adjusted to include seasonal fluctuations that happen each year, such as retail hiring for the holidays, was 6 percent.

Seasonally adjusting the rate helps to see trends better. The data, however, are not available on smaller than a state level, Mezger said.

Emily C. Dooley is a staff writer at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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