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Jobless rate declines, but warnings abound / August 05, 2020
Mecklenburg County’s unemployment rate fell to 8.7 percent in June as the number of jobs grew by nearly 300, according to the latest figures released by the Virginia Employment Commission on Wednesday.

Mecklenburg saw 241 people return to the labor force in June and added 290 jobs between May and June. This drove down the jobless rate by a half percent, from 9.2 percent in May to 8.6 percent in June.

It was the second consecutive month of growth after the county lost more than 600 jobs with the coronavirus lockdown that started in March.

But even after two months of job gains, the county economy is still down by more than 400 workers and 800 jobs since the start of 2020. Although Mecklenburg’s unemployment rate has come down from its April peak of 10.9 percent, it is more than twice the 4.2 percent rate notched in February before pandemic took hold.

Overall, Mecklenburg County has fared better than the national economy, which has an 11.2 percent jobless rate. The county is on a par with Virginia unemployment, at 8.5 percent. A full recovery in the coming months remains uncertain.

The number of workers filing for first-time jobless benefits in Mecklenburg County has jumped substantially since data was collected for the June jobs report. The number of workers filing first-time claims averaged 73 for each week in June. The average number of first-time filers climbed to 107 for the weeks of July.

In the past two weeks alone, there were 261 new jobless claims — 111 workers in the week ending July 18, and 150 for the week ending July 25. Another 853 workers are receiving ongoing unemployment benefits as of July 25, which shows that many people are struggling to find work.

The jobless claims data is reported weekly, while the VEC’s monthly employment survey wraps up around the middle of each month but is not released until the end of the following month. The survey data for the July jobs report will be released at the end of August.

Brunswick and Halifax counties saw similar improvement in their jobless rates for May and June, but also are seeing a rise in first-time unemployment claims in July.

Between May and June, 76 workers were added to the labor force in Brunswick County and 74 new jobs. Brunswick’s unemployment rate slid from 10.0 percent in May to 9.9 percent in June. Initial jobless claims were up to 81 for the week ending July 18, and up 68 for the week ending July 25.

The labor force in Halifax County grew by 307 workers between May and June, and 316 jobs were added to the local economy. Halifax’s jobless rate fell from 8.6 percent in May to 8.4 percent in June. A rise in new jobless claims at the end of July portends another economic downtown in the coming months.

In the last two weeks of July, 187 workers filed new jobless claims in Halifax County. Hundreds of workers in both Brunswick and Halifax are receiving ongoing unemployment benefits — 567 in Brunswick County, and 955 in Halifax County

A surge in new COVID-19 infections could force the closure of many newly reopened businesses and could end the economic recovery for local businesses and workers.

Gov. Ralph Northam already has curtailed business hours for bars and restaurants in the cities of Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Hampton, Williamsburg, Newport News, Poquoson, and James City and York counties after those localities experienced an increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Northam signaled more restrictions could be forthcoming for additional areas should the number of cases continue to surge, or where the rate of positive tests exceeds 10 percent.

As of Friday, the Virginia Department of Health reported a 6.2 percent positivity rate for the Southside Health District, which includes Brunswick, Halifax, and Mecklenburg counties. In the past seven days, the number of positive cases in Mecklenburg County has grown by 15, in Brunswick County by 27, and by 17 in Halifax County.

National economists point to other reasons that the current recovery could stall. Federal assistance to keep many businesses running and enhanced jobless benefits for laid-off workers ended as of July 31, with no action by Congress to extend or replace these stimulus programs.

Across Virginia, the unemployment rate fell by one-tenth percent, from 8.6 percent in May to 8.5 percent in June. Other area jobless rates for June were:

» Charlotte County: 7.1 percent, up from 6.9 percent in May

» Lunenburg County: 6.8 percent, up from 6.6 percent in May

» Pittsylvania County: 7.9 percent, down from 9.1 percent in May

» City of Danville: 11.8 percent, down from 12.7 percent in May

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