photo_ft_new_VEC historical unemployment graph_20200507

Statewide totals for weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance in Virginia since 1987

On Thursday, May 7, the Virginia Employment Commission released the latest statistics on claims for unemployment insurance by Virginia residents. Week-over-week numbers of new claims for unemployment insurance continue to decrease but remain at historically high levels; continued claims are still on the rise.

In Fauquier County during the week ending March 14, just nine Fauquier residents filed unemployment claims. In the seven weeks since then, more than 3,954 initial claims have been filed by county residents, representing more than 10% of the resident civilian workforce in the county, as measured in March.

Statewide, in the week ending May 2, 59,631 workers filed initial claims for unemployment benefits, including 344 in Fauquier County. Continued weekly claims (for those who had already filed for unemployment and been approved) stood at 376,689 in Virginia and at 2,443 in the county. (VEC unemployment data are not seasonally adjusted.)

The number of new claims for the week ending May 2 dropped compared to the previous week; the decline was 18% statewide and 19% in Fauquier. Most counties in the state followed this trend, especially in Northern Virginia; some rural jurisdictions in southern and southwestern Virginia seeing increases.

The downward trend in initial claims began after April 4, when the volume of initial claims appears to have peaked. However, the VEC press release said, employment “may not return to pre-pandemic levels for some time.” Initial unemployment claims since March 14 represent about 10% of the March labor force, according to the VEC.

According to the most recent demographic data, compiled by the VEC during the week ending April 25, job losses statewide have hit women, young and black workers especially hard statewide.

In that week, 43% of workers filing initial claims statewide were under the age of 35. Women made up 54% of claimants; African Americans, despite making up 19% of the state’s population, made up 28% of new unemployment claims; white workers made up 51% of claimants, despite representing 67% of the state’s population.

Workers of Asian-Pacific ethnicity made up 10% of claims, and those of Hispanic ancestry made up just 0.25% of initial claims that week. The ethnicity of 9% of claimants was not reported.

Overall, 78% of Virginia claimants did not have a four-year college degree.

Nationwide, a seasonally adjusted total of 3.2 million initial claims for unemployment insurance were filed during the week ending May 2, a decrease of 18% compared to the previous week. A cumulative total of 33.5 million workers have filed for unemployment insurance benefits in the past seven weeks.

The advance seasonally adjusted insured unemployment rate nationally was 15.5% for the week ending in April 25 – the last date for which data is available – according to a May 7 press release from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The national official unemployment rate for April will not be released from the BLS until mid-May; if the official unemployment rate for the month is close the advance estimate, it would mark the highest unemployment rate by far since 1948.

The highest unemployment rate for any month since 1948 was measured in November and December 1982, at 10.8%, at the end of a 17-month recession. Following the end of the Great Recession, which lasted officially from December 2007 to June 2009, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.0% in October 2009.

On April 16, the BLS announced that the national unemployment rate for March was 4.4%, an increase of 0.9% from February. The unemployment rate for Virginia was 3.3% in March, an increase of 0.7%. Local data for March was not yet available for localities or metro areas.

However, the BLS national employment surveys, which are used to measure the unemployment rate, were conducted from March 8 to 14, before the nationwide spike in unemployment claims began.

A document from the BLS dated April 3 said: "It is important to keep in mind that the March survey reference periods for both surveys predated many coronavirus-related business and school closures in the second half of the month."

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