Virginia's Unemployment Numbers May Be Misleading

May 3, 2018

Credit MBandman / Creative Commons

Unemployment in Virginia has been going down steadily since it peaked during the recession. But, poverty is going up.

Poverty is on the rise in Virginia, even as the unemployment rate continues to decline. Numbers from the Census Bureau show the poverty rate has increased about 12-percent in the last three years — even as the unemployment rate has been going down steadily since the height of the recession in 2010.

Jay Speer at the Virginia Poverty Law Center says jobs are not always the answer to poverty.

“It just means we have more working poor. We have more people working, but wages aren’t going up. And so people are still in poverty. It doesn’t help to have a job if the wages aren’t going up and it doesn’t get you out of poverty.”

Credit Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau

Sarah Lyon-Hill at Virginia Tech says one possible explanation is the rising number of people no longer counted as unemployed because they’ve given up looking for a job.

“They’re not looking for work. Therefore you have different groups such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics not counting them in the labor force. However, they still count in that poverty statistic.”

She says employers are also turning to part time workers who don’t get benefits, leading to more profits for the business but also increased risk of poverty for employees.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.