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PolitiFact VA: Virginia's job growth lags other states

Person posed for portrait
Virginia Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings. (Photo courtesy of the governor's office)

Speaker: Virginia Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings
Statement: Virginia is “lagging… in job growth and [job] recovery from the pandemic.”
Date: Feb. 22
Setting: State Senate committee hearing

During a meeting with state Senate budget writers in February, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration laid out what it sees as troubling trends in Virginia’s economy.

One item: “We’re lagging…in job growth and recovery from the pandemic,” Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings told the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on Feb. 22.

Our fact check found Cummings is on target.

Youngkin spokesperson Rob Damschen told us Cummings’ statement came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which publishes monthly data on each state’s civilian workforce - a count of workers that excludes military personnel, federal government employees and agricultural workers.

Damschen noted that in February 2020, the month before the pandemic settled on the United States, Virginia had 4.35 million civilian workers. In December 2021 - the latest statistics available when Cummings made his statement - there were 4.12 million workers.

That’s a drop of 231,000 civilian workers since before the pandemic, or 5.3%. Only five states had a larger percentage of loss during the same time: Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, New York and Vermont. Nationally, civil employment fell 2.1% during the span.

At this writing, two additional months of statistics are available and we can extend the comparison from February 2020 to February 2022. Virginia is down 196,000 civilian workers during the span. Its updated 4.4% drop is still sixth deepest in the nation.

Almost all of the job loss in Virginia and the nation occurred during the first two months of the pandemic. Virginia, as we’ve noted, had 4.35 million civilian workers in February 2020. In April 2020, the number dropped to 3.92 million.

In other words, Virginia lost 433,000 civilian jobs during those two months and has since refilled 232,000 of them - or 54%. That’s the fourth lowest percentage among states. The nation, in comparison, has filled 86% of the jobs it lost at the start of the pandemic.

Why is Virginia lagging?

While it sounds like Virginia’s economy is a roller coaster, it’s actually pretty stable compared to other states. That’s because it’s closely linked to federal spending with a huge government contracting industry in Northern Virginia and spin-off from ship building and the world’s largest Naval Base in Hampton Roads.

Although the loss of 433,000 civilian jobs is a lot, Virginia’s economy took a softer pandemic hit than most states. Virginia lost 10% of its jobs during the first two months of the pandemic while the nation lost 15%.

The takeaway: Virginia lost jobs at a slower rate than most states and has been regaining them at a slower pace. The pandemic had a comparatively “shallow economic impact” on the state, said Robert McNab, director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy at Old Dominion University.

Almost half of the jobs Virginia lost were in the leisure and hospitality industry - slightly higher than the national average. McNab said the drop was mainly caused by plummeting tourism in Hampton Roads and Washington. He said he expects tourism will improve as coronavirus infections and mask mandates wane.

A big question - in Virginia and across the nation - is how many leisure and hospitality workers will return to their occupations. The industry “can’t recover its prior levels and can’t retain its current employees, who are leaving for higher wages elsewhere,” McNab said.

The trend suggests Virginia may continue to make slow steps towards returning employment to pre-pandemic levels, McNab said at a March 9 forum.

“When you have an environment in Virginia where we have a significant number of job openings - more job openings than there’s actual unemployed individuals in play - that will serve as a constraint to a continued recovery,” he said.

According to BLS data, Virginia had 313,000 open jobs in January 2022 and 139,000 unemployed people.

Our ruling

Cummings said Virginia is “lagging…in job growth and recovery from the pandemic.”

Statistics back him up. Virginia lost 433,000 jobs in March and April 2020 - the first two full months of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. As of February 2022, the state has regained 232,000 of the jobs. The 54% recovery rate is the fourth lowest among states. It’s far behind the 86% national recovery rate.

Cummings skips some information that would add perspective to his claim. Although Virginia lost 10% of its civilian jobs during the first two coronavirus months, the nation lost 15%. The pandemic has had less economic impact on Virginia than most states. The state’s job loss, as well as its recovery, has been shallower than the nation’s.

We rate Cummings’ claim Mostly True.

Stephen Cummings, Presentation to Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, Feb. 22, 2022 (32:17 mark)
Email from Rob Damschen, deputy press secretary for Gov. Glenn Youngkin, March 15, 2022
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “ Employment status of the civilian noninstitutional population,” accessed March 29-30, 2022
BLS, “ Virginia Economy at a Glance,” accessed March 30, 2022
Interview with Robert McNab, director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis and Policy at Old Dominion University, March 30, 2022
Old Dominion University, “ State of the Commonwealth” Powerpoint presentation, March 9, 2022
Bureau of Labor Statistics, State Job Openings and Labor Turnover News Release, March 17, 2022
Richmond Times-Dispatch, “ Senate Democrats draw battle lines with Youngkin over economy and budget,” Feb. 23, 2022