Employment statistics, such as the rates of unemployment and labor-force participation, are good indicators of workforce engagement, but they obscure the complex and diverse challenges faced by the individuals who may be without a job. The unemployment rate of Virginians age 16 and older in 2016 was 5.0%. A much larger percentage (34.2%) did not participate in the labor force at all—that is, they did not have jobs and also were not actively seeking employment. 

Of the 8.3 million Virginians, 1.6 million are currently not working. Individuals among those not working may not be equally interested in working, in need of work, or even be able to work (retired, studying, raising children, etc.). For clarity, then, we define those who are out-of-work by combining the unemployed (who are actively seeking employment) with those who have either suspended their active search for employment or have never considered participating in the labor force (we call this group not-in-the-labor-force).

The numbers for the unemployed and not-in-the-labor-force (NILF) vary by gender (Figure 1). Of the 650,000 Virginians who are currently out-of-work, 40% are male while the remaining are female. More than 300,000 women are not-in-the-labor-force and account for 48% of the population who are not working and not seeking work. Being a single parent or having young children who need care are important considerations that may keep more women out of the work force.

Out-of-work GenderShares

Most Virginians who are out-of-work (160,000) are in their prime working ages between 25-34 years. Across nearly all adult age cohorts, more men are unemployed than their female counterparts; however, the converse is true for those not-in-the-labor-force, where women radically outnumber men within most age categories. Nearly 95,000 women ages (25-34) are out-of-work, which is highest among all of these age cohorts. This non-participation though, is a result of various structural barriers and societal norms, and overcoming some of these obstacles will be a gradual process requiring time and sustained pressure to address these challenges.

Out-of-work GenderAge

Out-of-work status is found to occur more commonly for both men and women who have either a high school degree or lower, as per Figure 3 below. The gender ratio gets skewed for lower levels of educational attainment, with women having a high school education or less being the largest out-of-work group. Among those who are both out-of-work and have a Bachelor’s degree or more, nearly 73% or 87,000 are female, as opposed to 32,000 men; indicating that there are many highly educated women currently not employed.

Out-of-work GenderEdu

This consistent gender asymmetry raises the question of whether women continue to have to allocate a large proportion of their time to alternative priorities like care-giving duties or household activities, and often may self-select out of the labor force. These gender-based differences may seem immutable, but closer examination of the reasons behind them may point to policies and support systems that could enable more female labor force participation. Provisions for accessible or affordable childcare and eldercare, better transportation options, flexible work hours for parents of young children, improving gender equity in the work place, are just some examples of the strategies that could improve the gender divide in Virginia’s work force participation rates.

SOURCE NOTES: Data is from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey five-year estimates (PUMA-level microdata). Study universe includes institutionalized individuals.

After a lengthy and high-profile crusade, Amazon has chosen to split its second headquarters (HQ2) between the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens in New York City and Crystal City (rebranded as “National Landing”) in Arlington, Virginia. The Seattle-based Amazon could get more than $2 billion in tax breaks and other incentives as part of the deal to open up two new offices with more than 25,000 new jobs at each location. As one of the largest economic development investments in U.S. history, this is a spectacular deal for Virginia—promising $2.5 billion in capital investments and $3.2 billion in net tax revenue over 20 years, plus thousands of jobs with an average pay of $150,000. However, many are predicting an outsized effect (both positive and negative) on regional economics, housing markets, and infrastructure.  There are multiple reasons why Amazon’s impact on the Commonwealth and the Washington region may not be as extravagant as many are prognosticating.

Amazon Image 1

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1. Women outnumber men in the oldest age groups.

We often instinctively assume that males and females each constitute half of any given population, but the reality is that the ratio of the sexes varies by age throughout the life course. In the vast majority of societies, more boys are born than girls, females live longer than males, and the ratio of men to women declines with increasing age. In Virginia in 2017, for example, as demonstrated in the graph below, males outnumbered females in all age groups through the mid-thirties; but from the mid-thirties on, females outnumbered males, especially in the 85-and-older age group.

LE Graph 1

Source: Author’s calculations using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, 2017 Estimates of Virginia’s Resident Population by Age Group and Sex 

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As the economy has strengthened in recent years, home prices have risen in much of the U.S., with the median home sale price recently passing its pre-recession peak. Virginians who rent are also spending more of their income on housing than during the 2000s housing bubble. Though household incomes in Virginia have been increasing since the end of the recession and currently are at an all-time high, the median rent in Virginia has risen three times as quickly as income over the past ten years. Among Virginian’s who are in the second from the lowest income quartile (households earning between 35 and 75 thousand dollars), the share spending more than the HUD recommended limit of 30 percent of their income on rent has continued to climb since the recession, reaching 41 percent last year, nearly double prerecession levels. Likely due to the high cost of housing and rent, the share of young adults between ages 18 and 34 who live with their parents or other relatives has also continued to rise since the recession, passing 45 percent last year.  Virginia Renters Spending More Than 30 Percent of Income on Housing

Source: 2005 and 2017 Census Bureau American Community Survey

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Households can be one of two things: owned or rented. The homeownership rate equals the share of households that are owned. Therefore, a rise in the homeownership rate indicates a rise in the number of households electing to own their home rather than rent in a given area. Essentially, homeownership can provide an idea of where householders have the best chances of buying a home if they so desire.

Virginia is just now seeing the first significant increase in homeownership since before the housing crisis. According to annual data from the American Community Survey, two-thirds of occupied homes in Virginia were owned in 2017 – a 1.3 percent increase over 2016. Homeownership is increasing at an even greater rate among members of Virginia’s younger generation, who are catching up following the negative impact of the recession. Young adults, defined here as those age 15 to 34, had a homeownership rate increase of 1.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, reaching 34.8 percent. The homeownership rate among those other than young adults (greater than 34 years old) was 73.7 percent – an increase of 1.0 percent.

How does young Virginian homeownership vary across the state? What underlying causes are driving changes in the homeownership rate? What does this information indicate and imply for Virginia counties and cities? This commentary aims to explore the above questions.


Figure 1: Change in Homeownership Rate from the Previous Year in Virginia, 2006-2017

Figure 1

Source: Census Bureau American Community Survey, 1-year estimates

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After watching the movie “Crazy Rich Asians,” I wondered if it is accurate to label Asians in the United States and, specifically in Virginia, as rich. After delving into American Community Census data, I discovered that, in fact, Asians have been the wealthiest group in the United States for over three decades, and the wealthiest in Virginia as well.

Based on the 2017 American Community Survey data, the median household income for Asian in the U.S. was $83,456, the highest among all races and ethnicities.

Graph 1
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates


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Perhaps the most surprising demographic trend over the past decade in Virginia—and much of the U.S.—has been the resurgence of growth in cities after nearly half a century of population decline or stagnation. In the early 2000s, after the population of Virginia’s independent cities hit their lowest point since the 1950 census, many of Virginia’s cities began growing again. Local zoning reforms, changing property development models, and a renewed public interest in urban centers all helped fuel the recent growth. Yet the recent population growth trend in Virginia’s cities may be more fragile than it appears; Virginia’s cities experienced their most rapid growth during the last recession when the economy and strict mortgage regulations made it difficult to buy a home. Now that the economy and housing markets are the strongest they have been in over a decade, migration out of many of Virginia’s cities is rising.City Population 1960 to 2017

Source: Weldon Cooper Center Population Estimates and the Decennial Census. The consolidated city-counties are not included in the population total. Read Full Article →


According to the Center for Disease Control’s 2017 Vital Statistics Rapid Release, the provisional number of births for the U.S. (at 3,853,472) declined for the third year in a row since 2014 and was the lowest count in the last 30 years. Related fertility statistics also reflect this trend, with the average number of children per woman in the United States (1.76) hitting a 39 year low since 1978; while the birth rate reached a record minimum as well (60.2 per 1000 women aged 15-44).

Fertility Trends

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Population pyramids are graphs that show the distribution of a population by age group and sex. Bars representing age groups are stacked from youngest at the bottom of the graph to oldest on the top. A vertical axis in the center of the graph separates males from females in each age group. To enable standardized comparisons of populations of different sizes, the graphs often display the population of each age group by sex as a percentage of the total population rather than as a raw population number.

The interactive data visualization below shows population pyramids for the Commonwealth of Virginia and each of its localities and regions, including 15 workforce regions (Local Workforce Investment Areas) as well as eight regions defined by Cooper Center researchers. The visualization was created using the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 estimates of state and county resident populations by age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin.



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Until relatively recently in history, it was easy to determine whether a place was urban or rural. Walking was the main way to get around, so a strong incentive existed for urban areas to remain compact. But with transportation improvements, particularly highway construction since 1945, the boundaries between urban and rural areas have grown increasingly blurry. Knowing these boundaries, however, is important. With the decline in agricultural and manufacturing employment, the socioeconomic differences between much of rural and urban Virginia has increased.Virginia's Rural-Urban Divide

Source: Census 2012-2016 ACS, using USDA Rural Urban Commuting Codes to define Virginia rural and urban areas. 

Currently, there are at least 15 different federal definitions of what is considered rural. By far, the two most commonly used definitions are from the Census Bureau and the Office of Management and Budget. The Census Bureau defines rural as any place that is located outside a dense urban area (which is as an area with a population greater than 2,500). This is a more traditional definition of a rural area in that it focuses on population density. The Office of Management and Budget defines a county as non-metro (which is typically considered rural) if it does not have a Census Urban Area with a population over 50,000 or a large share of their workforce commuting into a nearby urban area. Including commuter counties as part of a metro area (which is typically considered urban) helps take account for the blurring of rural-urban boundaries that has occurred since World War Two. Read Full Article →