Virginia’s unemployment rate has fallen to an 11-year low of 2.9 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, as a surging national economy, a frothy stock market and new defense spending stimulate new hiring in some parts of the state. Unemployment in Virginia is down 0.7 percentage points from where it was a year ago, and sits well below the national rate of 3.7 percent.
The state added 68,400 new jobs in the one-year period ending in September, a 1.7 percent employment growth rate that tracked evenly with the nation as a whole. September was the 54th consecutive month of employment growth for the state.
“I’m pleased to see the unemployment rate decrease for a third consecutive month, a key indication that Virginia’s economy is strengthening and the work we’re doing to attract new business and investment is paying off,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) wrote in a news release. “I look forward to continuing this progress so we can ensure economic opportunity exists for all Virginians, no matter who they are or where they live.”
Some of the strongest growth came in the professional and business services sector — which added 17,000 jobs statewide in the past year, the bureau reported — jobs that are generally regarded as stable and high-paying. The good news was tempered, however, by the fact that the labor force — a measure that includes job-seekers as well as the gainfully employed — shrunk by about 0.1 percent, meaning some businesses in the state may be held back by worker shortages.
The Washington metropolitan region also saw good news on the jobs front. It experienced a 2 percent employment bump over the past year, ranking it 13th among metropolitan areas by job growth.
Analysts said the state may also be seeing some benefit from increased defense spending under a Republican-controlled Congress, something that has benefited defense contractors in places like Arlington and Hampton Roads. The most recent budget deal gave the Pentagon $606.5 billion, a $17 billion increase over the previous budget.
“Defense budgets are now surging, and there are very few states in the U.S. that are as synergized with the military-industrial complex as is Virginia,” said Anirban Basu, a regional economist with Sage Policy Group. “The Washington metropolitan area tends to thrive during periods of massive federal debt accumulation, and we’re in that period now."