At 9.5%, Unemployment High in Richmond

November 14, 2011

By Sarah DiPeppe

While some people may assume Richmond is protected from the financial crisis gripping the United States, that assumption is far from the truth. Even though Virginia’s state capital is home to multiple financial and legal firms, one of the country’s few Federal Reserve Banks and six Fortune 500 companies, many citizens still can’t find work.

With almost 10,000 Richmond workers unemployed, the city is definitely experiencing a problem. The unemployment rate in Richmond was 9.5 percent this past September, while the statewide and national rates remained significantly lower – Virginia at 6.4 percent and the nation at 8.8 percent.

According to statistics released last week by the Virginia Employment Commission, Richmond is tied for the 17th highest unemployment rate among Virginia’s 134 counties and independent cities.

Three localities near Richmond had even higher jobless rates. They are Sussex County (9.6 percent) and the cities of Hopewell (10.7 percent) and Petersburg (12.8 percent). In contrast, Richmond-area counties such as Goochland (5.4 percent) and Powhatan (5.9 percent) were well below state and national unemployment rates.

Several localities in Northern Virginia had rates that were half – some even less – than Richmond’s rate. Arlington County, for example, boasted a rate of just 4 percent.

Ann Lang, a senior economist for the VEC’s Economic Information Services Division, said business closures and layoffs in Richmond have contributed to the city’s unemployment.

In July, for example, 166 people lost their jobs when the Duro Bag Manufacturing Co. in Richmond shut down, according to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, a state agency that helps businesses.

The partnership has been tracking business closings and layoffs since February 2008. In that time, it has counted almost 13,000 lost jobs in the Richmond metro area. More than 1,400 of those jobs were in Richmond; 2,000 in Chesterfield County; almost 700 in Petersburg; and more than 7,800 in Henrico County.

Richmond’s suburbs have a lower unemployment rate than the core city. The rate in Henrico and Chesterfield counties, the metro area’s most populous localities, was 6.5 percent; in Hanover County, the rate was 6 percent.

Lang said it’s important to look at unemployment on a regional basis.

“When analyzing the unemployment rate, the surrounding economic area should be considered,” she said.

The VEC reported that the Richmond metropolitan statistical area has an overall unemployment rate of 7.3 percent.

Paralleling statewide and national trends, Richmond’s rate has dropped somewhat over the past year. In September 2010, unemployment in Richmond was at 10 percent or more; and in August 2011, it was 9.9 percent. Even so, Richmond’s unemployment level has remained persistently higher than the state and national averages.

That’s daunting news for college students like Chelsea Althouse, a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has been hunting for jobs on Facebook and Craigslist, but with little luck.

“The job market is calling for more educated employees, not part-time students,” Althouse said.

“I will probably not find a job I want in the near future.”

Unemployed? Here are resources

Are you currently unemployed in Virginia? The state provides both financial assistance and temporary work for those hunting for jobs.

Visit the Virginia Employment Commission’s website for a step-by-step guide to aid you in your transition time entitled “OK, I’m unemployed, NOW what?!”

The guide not only explains the process for filing for unemployment benefits; it also contains contact information for local workforce centers – the closest being in Mechanicsville – where you can go to talk with someone one-on-one about your next step.

Joyce Fogg of the VEC says Richmond has many resources for the unemployed outside of her own agency. They include the Department of Social Services and the Department of Rehabilitative Services.

Fogg says the VEC staff usually refers customers to a special telephone number that Virginia uses to connect unemployed citizens with government and nonprofit agencies. It’s called the 211 help line – simply dial the three digits or visit the www.211virginia.org website.

“This service is a single source where anyone can learn about a variety of programs that can be accessed,” Fogg says.