Complacency Check: Virginia’s Employment Picture

We can all take some comfort in the fact that Virginia’s unemployment rate has fallen to 5.8%, a three-year low. Only a year ago, unemployment was 6.4%, and it had been as high as 7.2%. Clearly, the economy is strengthening. It would be beastly not to savor the gains for a least a moment. So, let’s all bow our heads for a moment of silent thanks. … There. Now, what do we make the the numbers?

Just as the Obama administration is taking credit for the improving employment picture nationally, the McDonnell administration is taking credit for the improving employment picture in the Old Dominion. As I have blogged previously, I am little impressed with the Obama track record, which is based upon fiscal and monetary stimulus that is unprecedented for a peace-time economy and will wither as soon as that stimulus is withdrawn. I also remain unimpressed with the McDonnell administration’s track record, which has been sub-par compared to national numbers over the past year.

The following numbers from the Associated Press show that although unemployment declined in Virginia between January 2011 and January 2012, it dropped more in 32 other states.

McDonnell and his jobs czar, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, do deserve kudos for one thing. Unlike their executive counterpart in Washington, D.C., who utilized the economic crisis in order to engineer an unsustainable expansion in the size and scope of government, they have cobbled together an economic strategy that functions within tight fiscal constraints: no tax increases, no unsupportable increases in debt and little increase in inflation-adjusted spending. Also, they have done a competent job of utilizing the tools that have been available to all Virginia governors for time immemorial — promoting inward corporate investment, tourism, agricultural exports and the like. What they have failed to do — and they reflect the blinkered thinking of Virginia’s political class and civic leadership in this regard — is think about economic development in creative and imaginative ways.

In truth, there is little to celebrate. Virginia’s economy recovery is as fragile — and reversible — as the nation’s economic recovery. We should not take this brief revival in our fortunes as a reason to get complacent. Rather, we should redouble our efforts, while we have the resources to do so, to bring about fundamental and lasting change to the underpinnings of a strong economy: education, health care, transportation, land use and efficient government services.

Update: Virginia had a good year by traditional economic development standards — the state ranked No. 5 in Site Selection magazine’s top states by number of corporate facilities and expansions, snagging 273 new projects, up from 190 the year before. (See press release.) This is what Virginia is good at, but clearly it’s not enough to move the jobs meter very far.


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  1. HardHatMommy Avatar

    Very very fragile. I’m not too sure I believe the numbers. If you talk to the people from places like Orange County, there is little to get excited over. My own mother is a highly competent individual who lost her job when her employer shut their doors. Today, she is grossly under-employed. My brother, one of the hardest working and talented men I know, lost his job as a land surveyor in 2008. There was a time when every company for miles knew him and wanted him on their team. His work ethic and knowledge made him a hot commodity. Now those companies are gone or are operating with a skeleton crew. He continues to look for sustainable work but instead is getting by on short term part time jobs. He takes whatever work he can get. Neither of them factor into that unemployment stat, do they? And that’s why I don’t believe the numbers. I want to believe that there is good news, but I’m just not feeling all that confident. I think there are a lot of people out there that aren’t accounted for in those numbers.

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