By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Oct. 30 — During the initial surge of unemployment claims being filed in late March and early April when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the region, Page County saw a peak of 556 claims filed in just one week (April 4). The month of April saw a total of 1,507 claims for unemployment insurance filed in the county.
At that time, national and state unemployment rates were well into the teens, with more than 30 million claims filed in the U.S. in the first seven weeks of the pandemic shutdown — some of the highest unemployment rates reported since the Great Depression. However, much like the nation and Virginia, the jobless rate is more under control at this time and even beginning to reach pre-pandemic levels in Page County and elsewhere.
On Wednesday, the Virginia Employment Commission released unemployment figures for September 2020. With 650 claims for unemployment insurance among a workforce of 11,727 — Page County reported a jobless rate of 5.5 percent for September 2020. That continues a local decline in unemployment from 5.8 percent in August, and 7.5 percent in July.
While Page County has not reached the 2.8 percent jobless rate it touted a year ago in September 2019, the county has reached unemployment levels seen in February (5.4 percent) and March (5.1 percent) when the first cases of COVID-19 were being discovered within the Lord Fairfax Health District.
Page County’s 5.5 percent unemployment rate for September 2020 ranks the county 58th among 134 localities across Virginia (including cities and counties). The City of Winchester also ranked 58th with a 5.5 percent jobless rate, while Harrisonburg posted a 5.4 percent rate to rank 53rd. Here’s a look at how other surrounding localities stacked up statewide in September:
• 3.9% — Augusta and Rockingham counties tied for 5th statewide;
• 4.2% — Clarke County ranked 12th;
• 4.3% — Frederick and Rappahannock County tied for 16th;
• 4.8% — Shenandoah County ranked 31st;
• 5.3% — Warren County ranked 50th.
The top-ranked locality in Virginia was Highland County and neighboring Madison County, who tied for the top spot with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent. The City of Petersburg ranked the lowest, with a 15.4 percent jobless rate. Petersburg was one of only six localities in the state with double-digit unemployment.
Virginia posted a statewide unemployment rate of 6 percent — down from 6.3 percent in August. One year ago, the Commonwealth posted a jobless rate of 2.6 percent.
“The largest job gains during September occurred in leisure and hospitality with an increase of 5,400 jobs to 331,700 and professional and business services (+5,400 jobs) to 740,300,” according to the Virginia Employment Commission.
Nationally, the U.S. unemployment rate stands at 7.7 percent for September — down from 8.5 percent in August. In September of 2019, the U.S, touted an unemployment rate of only 3.3 percent.
The nation had hit a 50-year low of 3.5 percent unemployment in February 2020 before the seven-week shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced 33.5 million Americans to file for assistance.
For additional information on who is claiming unemployment insurance in Virginia, access the VEC’s U.I. claims data dashboard (https://www.vec.virginia.gov/ui-claims-dashboard) that is updated the following Monday after the weekly claims press release.