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Most of the stores in the Valley Mall were shuttered in March due to the new coronavirus outbreak. Local unemployment rates in the Valley improved slightly from April to May.

After spiking in April, the unemployment rate for localities in the Valley recovered somewhat in May, according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, though regional jobless rates are still roughly three times higher than May 2019.

In May 2019, none of the jobless rates Harrisonburg and Rockingham, Augusta, Shenandoah and Page counties exceeded 3.5%.

But in May 2020, none had an unemployment rate below 8%.

However, these numbers are improvements from the jobless rates in April 2020.

The Harrisonburg metro area’s jobless rate, which includes both the city and the county, reached its highest point in April at 10.2% since the data started being collected in January 1990.

The number of unemployed city and county residents rose from 1,660 in February, the lowest point since October 2007, to 2,130 in March and then tripled to 6,675, the highest number of unemployed residents since the data stated being collected in January 1990.

By May, roughly 800 of the 6,675 unemployed Harrisonburg and Rockingham residents the month prior had restarted work or found a new job.

In March, Harrisonburg had an unemployment rate of 3.8%, a figure that almost tripled to 11.1% in April, but recovered ever so slightly in May to 10.9%.

A year prior, in May 2019, the unemployment rate was 3.4%.

Rockingham’s unemployment rate more than tripled from 2.8% in March to 9.6% in April and then down to 8% in May. The county had a jobless rate of 2.5% in May 2019.

The other localities experienced a similar spike that was seen across the nation as businesses were forced to close and residents encouraged to stay at home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The unemployment rate in Page County rose from 5.9% in May to 14.1% in April and then to 11.7% by May, also nearly three times the unemployment rate of May 2019 of 3.3%.

Shenandoah County saw its unemployment rate more than triple from March to April, going from 3.1% to 9.7%. The following month saw the figure reduce slightly to 8.2%, also more than triple its jobless rate of 2.5% in May 2019.

Augusta County has weathered the storm the best compared to the aforementioned localities.

The county’s unemployment rate jumped from 2.9% in March to 8.3% in April and then down to 6.7% in May. However, this rate is still nearly triple the unemployment rate for the locality from May 2019, which was 2.4%.

Frank Tamberrino, president of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, said that the county has probably fared better because of the nature of the COVID-19 economic damage.

Manufacturing, unusually, was not as hit hard by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Tamberrino.

“That’s usually what gets hit first during most downturns,” he said of the manufacturing sector.

People continued to buy products online or in bulk during the pandemic, which has helped keep the wheels of industry turning, compared to most downturns where orders start to falter as consumer confidence wanes, Tamberrino said.

“But then you look in general at the sectors that were really impacted by this pandemic and you’re looking at the hospitality and retail industries and the service sector,” he said. “That pretty much sums up a lot of what’s going on in Harrisonburg with [James Madison University], the interstate, Route 33 and shopping areas.”

As businesses open back up and people return to work, Tamberrino said the unemployment numbers look as though they will drop in June. He noted hotel occupancy had gone back up locally and in the state.

Across the commonwealth, the number of residents with jobs in Virginia has steadily risen, with a few minor blips, since the Great Recession started to take its toll at the beginning of 2009.

The number of Virginia jobs in April, the lowest point so far in the pandemic, was 3,831,939, the lowest point since February 2010.

After the losses suffered in April, May’s employment figures bounced back. In the commonwealth, roughly 80,000 people gained employment between April and May from 3,831,939 to 3,915,866, the lowest point since January 2011.

This bounce back in jobs was reflected in the state’s unemployment rate, which dropped from 11.2% to 9.4% between April and May.

Previously, between March and April, unemployment increased from 3.3% to 11.2% as nearly 340,000 Virginians lost their jobs.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @iamIanMunro

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