Labor Day is a good time to reflect on the prosperity of our nation’s workers.

No doubt, the recent recession and ensuing slow recovery has taken a huge toll on the economy and its workers.

Jobs are coming back, but not as quickly and not always where they were lost.

The latest U.S. jobs report from early July indicates the national economy continues to add jobs at a slow but steady pace.

That data indicates about 175,000 jobs have been added each month for the past three months.

By comparison, the nation on average added 134,000 jobs per month between May and July in 2011.

The U.S. economy is gradually recovering, and now the labor market may even be gaining some momentum.

About 138 million people were employed before the recession began in late 2007.

But the economy shed some 8.7 million jobs — more than 6 percent of total nonfarm employment vanished.

Since then, total nonfarm employment has grown to more than 136 million, which is only 1.5 percent below the prerecession peak.

It is likely — assuming the current pace of nearly 180,000 new jobs created per month continues — that the economy will reach its previous peak of employment in mid-2014.

At that point, the U.S. economy will have fully “recovered” from the recession’s job losses.

While jobs are coming back, they are not necessarily where the greatest cuts occurred.

As of the second quarter, a small number of states have fully recovered the number of jobs lost during the most recent recession and have begun to set new records of employment. The states are Texas, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, West Virginia, Utah, Massachusetts, Nebraska and New York, as well as the District of Columbia.

Close behind are 12 states that have recovered 98 to 99 percent of the jobs lost during the previous recession — including Maryland, Louisiana and Oklahoma.

These states, along with the U.S. economy as a whole, likely will regain their previous employment peak within the next 12 months.

For the remainder of the country, the recovery of lost jobs has been slower and many states remain well below their pre-recession employment levels.

For instance, California’s economy was hit much harder in the recession than the nation. It lost nearly 9 percent of nonfarm employment.

California’s labor market is rebounding, but it still remains roughly 4 percent below its previous employment peak.

It probably will be well into 2015 before California hits its previous peak employment, whereas by then many other states will be setting new employment records.

Arizona and Florida, for instance, are more than 7 percent below their previous employment peaks, while Nevada remains more than 10 percent below its peak.

Employment in Virginia is 37,000 jobs — or 1 percent — below the prerecession peak.

Purchase your ticket for Metro Business Live on Tuesday, Sept. 17, and hear from five local women who will share their stories about starting and running their successful businesses.

Similar to the nation, not all the jobs are coming back to Virginia in the metropolitan areas where they were lost.

As of July, Blacksburg, Charlottesville, Northern Virginia and Winchester are the only state metro areas to have surpassed their previous peaks.

The Danville metro area, for example, remains 3.3 percent below its peak.

The Richmond metro area employment in July was about 4,400 jobs, or 0.7 percent, below its pre-recession peak.

Employment stood at 631,000, representing a gain of 37,600 jobs from the bottom, or 89.5 percent of the total peak-to-trough job loss.

Employment across the country typically bounced back within two years of a recession, and many times in the very same places that lost the jobs in first place.

This recession, however, has seen the slowest employment recovery since the Great Depression, and the jobs that are being created today are in different sectors of the economy and in different localities.

While some areas of the country enjoy new employment records, many others are still years away from recovering all the jobs that were lost. In some locations, it is possible the job market may never recover back to its previous peak.

The jobs are coming back, just not where we left them.

Christine Chmura is president and chief economist at Chmura Economics & Analytics. She can be reached at (804) 649-3640 or receive email at

Commenting is limited to Times-Dispatch subscribers. To sign up, click here.
If you’re already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.