Jobless rate remains high in county, Norton


Wise County’s jobless rate ticked up slightly in July to 8.9 percent, with 1,200 people identified as unemployed by the Virginia Employment Commission.

According to the most recent figures, the county stood at 8.9 percent unemployment involving 1,159 people in June.

These rates are nearly double the unemployment percentages one year earlier, which stood at 5.3 last July and 4.8 last June.

Norton’s jobless rate also increased slightly, from 9.2 percent in June 2020 to 9.8 percent in July, with the number of unemployed people rising from 153 to 165. Jobless rates were 3.8 percent and 4 percent in June and July 2019.

The county and city continue to struggle their way back from major job losses during the spring as the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to shut down. At the peak of the crisis in April, the county registered 12.3 percent unemployment, or 1,615 people. At the same time, Norton’s jobless rate was 12.7 percent, or 212 people.

It is important to note that official unemployment numbers do not count everyone in the population who lacks a job.

The employment commission defines “unemployed” people as only those who are “actively available and looking for work.” In other words, that means people who are registered with the employment commission as job seekers. People who continue to live here, who need a job but who have given up on finding one, are almost certain not to show up in the jobless rate calculation.

The VEC considers a locality’s “labor force” to be anyone who is employed along with anyone who meets its official definition of “unemployed.” As of July, Wise County’s labor force was 13,005 people, while Norton’s was 1,685 people.

A May 2020 VEC analysis looked at 2019 labor force participation rates — the percentage of a county or city’s population that is in the labor force. Virginia’s lowest participation rates — each at less than 50 percent — were concentrated in the counties of Wise, Lee, Dickenson, Russell, Buchanan and Tazewell, along with Norton and Patrick County.