0812_dnr_Job Fair_1

A sign for a job fair stands outside the Lucy F. Simms Center in Harrisonburg on Aug. 12.

Virginia added 2,700 jobs in September as the recovery continues its sluggish march to draw more people back into the labor force, according to the most recent preliminary jobs data released by the Virginia Employment Commission on Friday.

Though the number of unemployed residents fell by over 8,600 to 159,800, the labor force also decreased by 3,859 to 4.24 million.

“The labor force participation rate edged down to 62.8 percent, which is about where the participation rate has been since February 2021 and well below the pre-pandemic rate of 66.0 percent,” Joe Mengedoth, economist with the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, said in a Friday email.

The total September job gain was “fairly small,” Mengedoth said, but the August employment numbers were more than doubled from their preliminary levels.

“Last month, when the August data came out, it showed a gain of 10,500 jobs, but with today’s report, that figure was revised up to 23,600 jobs added in that month,” Mengedoth said. “So, last month’s job gain was even more positive than originally thought.”

In September, the private sector led the way in job creation, with 7,500 new positions, according to the preliminary Virginia Employment Commission data.

Professional and business services had 9,900 new jobs in September alone, according to the data.

“That gain actually brought total employment in the industry slightly above its pre-pandemic level,” Mengedoth said.

There were also solid employment gains in manufacturing and health services, where 2,000 and 3,300 new jobs were created, respectively, last month.

“Again, comparing to pre-pandemic levels, several industries are now just one to two percent down; those industries are construction, manufacturing, and trade, transportation, and warehousing,” Mengedoth said.

Leisure and hospitality, the hardest hit sector by the pandemic, remains at the back of the pack for job creation.

In Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, employment reached its highest point in September since before the pandemic, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were roughly 69,400 workers in the city and county in September — only 1,500 short of February 2020, when there were 70,900 workers in the area, according to BLS data. In August, there were 66,500 workers in the Harrisonburg-Rockingham metro area.

In by the end of March 2020, roughly 900 Harrisonburg and Rockingham workers had lost their jobs as the pandemic first appeared in the Valley, but there remained about 70,000 workers. The next month, another 7,400 workers lost their jobs, then another 1,700 more lost their jobs in May, according to BLS.

By October 2020, there were roughly 67,200 workers in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. The figure has hovered around that level since, but dropped to its lowest point of 66,200 in July.

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

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