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Jobless rate in Virginia improves overall while labor shortages still occurring
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Jobless rate in Virginia improves overall while labor shortages still occurring

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Businesses and other employers in Virginia have been continuing to add jobs in Virginia as the COVID-19 pandemic recedes, but the rate of job gains varies by industry and by region in the state.

Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell slightly from June to May to 4.3%, the Virginia Employment Commission reported Friday.

That rate is down from about 8.8% a year ago, when the pandemic was at its worst, the commission reported.

The number of people in Virginia looking for work also increased in June, with the labor force jumping by 4,343 people to more than 4.23 million. Employers in the state added 9,791 jobs to employ more than 4.05 million people.

“The job recovery really depends on where you are [working] in industry and where you are geographically,” said Joseph Mengeboth, a regional economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

He noted that the Richmond area has recovered about 45% of the jobs it lost during the worst of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, while the Charlottesville and Lynchburg areas also have recovered about 40% to 45% of jobs.

Some areas, however, have seen full gains, such as Winchester, which has a more than 100% recovery of jobs, while Staunton has recovered about 84% of jobs lost during the pandemic.

Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate continues to be below the national rate, which rose from 5.8% to 5.9% in June.

Some industries continued to gain jobs in June such as construction and transportation, trade and utilities, while others such as arts and entertainment continued to lose jobs from May to June.

Some industries have persistent labor shortages.

“It is just a pervasive problem right now,” Mengedoth said. “Almost every conversation I have had or seen, it comes up that people are talking about labor and not being able to find the labor they need.”

Webb Estes, vice president of the Richmond-based trucking company Estes Express Lines, said Friday that the company, which has operations in multiple states, continues to have trouble hiring skilled people such as trucking, engineering and distribution skilled trade workers or professionals.

“We have 20,000 people and we have 3,000 jobs openings across the country,” Estes said. “We have added 1,400 or 1,500 jobs maybe in the last year from where we were. We have been successful, but trying to double down on that success is hard.”

Employment from May to June rose in six of 11 major industry sectors tracked by the government but declined in five.

The largest job gain during June occurred in government with an increase of 5,900 jobs to 703,300 employed. The second largest increase occurred in trade and transportation, which gained 2,000 jobs to 658,900. Construction gained 1,400 jobs, rising to 204,900 in June.

Virginia’s falling unemployment rate and expanding labor force show the strength of our economy and business climate,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement on Friday. “We continue to be recognized as best place in America to do business because we are building a Commonwealth where both workers and employers can thrive. We can all be optimistic about what the future holds as we move beyond this pandemic.”

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