Disparate Impact of COVID-19 Across Virginia

While COVID-19 is shaking the entire economy across the country, some regions might experience more severe symptoms than others. Knowing which places are likely to be hit the hardest can ensure a better response for recovery in this crucial time. To illustrate the different impacts of COVID-19 on local economies in Virginia, the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development mapped the job shares of industries with the highest risks of being adversely affected by the pandemic. This approach is borrowed from the Brookings Institute’s analysis of most affected metropolitan areas.[1]

We examined the five most vulnerable industries identified by Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s: 1) mining/oil and gas 2) transportation 3) employment services 4) travel arrangements, and 5) leisure and hospitality.[2]

Table 1 Industries at highest risk from COVID-19 in Virginia and US[3]
Virginia USA
Jobs, 2019 Share (%) Jobs, 2019 Share (%)
Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction 5990 0.1 686169 0.4
Employment Services 66171 1.6 3623907 2.4
Travel Arrangement and Reservation Services 3939 0.1 218846 0.1
Transportation 80609 2.0 3604971 2.3
Leisure & hospitality 404772 10.0 16330836 10.6
Total vulnerable jobs 561481 13.8 24464729 15.9

The share of the total jobs at risk in Virginia is 13.8%, slightly lower than the national share of 15.9%. Virginia’s employment make-up is highly skewed to Government and Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services sectors thanks to its proximity and reliance on federal government spending. As a result, Virginia as a whole is less dependent on these five vulnerable industries. However, the industry make-up of the state varies as much as the state’s geography and topography. In other words, counties in Virginia will be affected differently.

Table 2 indicates the rank of the most and the least affected commonwealth counties. Bath County has three times the share of jobs at risk compared to the state share. With 39.1% of its employment reliant on the leisure and hospitality industry, Bath County is extremely vulnerable to the coming recession. It is the same case with Williamsburg City, with 32% of job share in leisure and hospitality. Dickenson County and Buchanan County are ranked as the third and fourth due to their share of mining jobs around 20%. These two counties also have the share of transportation jobs (4.4% in Dickenson County, 2.8% in Buchanan County) higher than state and national average. The rest of the counties ranked in the top 15 show a similar pattern with high percentages of job share from the leisure and hospitality sector except for Buena Vista City and Botetourt County. Despite the share of jobs in leisure and hospitality being lower than the state average, Buena Vista City turns out to be highly vulnerable due to the high share of the employment service sector (11.9%). Botetourt County has a 4.6% share of employment services and 5.9% of transportation, both higher than the state share.

Table 2 Top 15 and bottom 5 counties by share of jobs in the most affected industries from COVID-19[4]
Rank Virginia Counties Share of jobs, 2019 Vulnerable Jobs, 2019
1 Bath County, VA 39.5 902
2 Williamsburg City County, VA 32.9 4,863
3 Dickenson County, VA 30.8 1,059
4 Buchanan County, VA 27.3 1,825
5 Colonial Heights City County, VA 24.5 2,673
6 James City County, VA 23.1 7,117
7 Emporia City County, VA 22.6 798
8 Rappahannock County, VA 21.1 320
9 York County, VA 20.4 4,985
10 Page County, VA 19.8 1,159
11 Bristol City County, VA 19.6 1,853
12 Nelson County, VA 19.5 833
13 Botetourt County, VA 19.5 2,275
14 Buena Vista City County, VA 19.5 534
15 Fredericksburg City County, VA 19.1 4,961
129 Richmond County, VA 6.3 193
130 Cumberland County, VA 5.7 79
131 Grayson County, VA 5.5 181
132 Highland County, VA 4.6 24
133 Bland County, VA 4.3 90
Total 13.8 561,481

Link for the Full Data: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/154k8rquH71uQflDvxnr-vwd2MHA9byZk9L7v3XUDCBs/edit?usp=sharing

The top five least vulnerable counties, meanwhile, are regions with relatively less dependence on those five vulnerable industries. The largest source of employment in these counties is in government and manufacturing.

Figure 1 Share of Jobs from the five most vulnerable industries in Virginia

Figure 1 shows the distribution of the likely impact of COVID-19 across Virginia. What does this regional disparity tell us? One piece of information it can share with us is the importance of industrial diversification. Regions overly dependent on a single industry are more likely to face an immediate and sharp impact when their dominant sector is directly affected by external events. Although it is impossible to build an economy free from any external crisis,  having more diversity helps the regional economy to be healthier and resilient.

[1] Mark Muro, Robert Maxim, and Jacob Whiton. March 17 2020, “The places a COVID-19 recession will likely hit hardest”. Brookings.  Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/17/the-places-a-covid-19-recession-will-likely-hit-hardest/#cancel

[2] Mark Zandi. March 16 2020. “COVID-19: A Fiscal Stimulus Plan”. Moody’s Analytics. Retrieved from: https://www.economy.com/economicview/analysis/378644/COVID19-A-Fiscal-Stimulus-Plan

[3]  Emsi developer, 2020. 4.

[4] Emsi developer, 2020. 4.

Hye-jeong Seo

Graduate Assistant at Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development Ph.D. Student in Planning, Governance, and Globalization (PGG) at Virginia Tech 

  3 comments for “Disparate Impact of COVID-19 Across Virginia

  1. April 9, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    Is there a way to get the full list of counties from Table 2?
    Yoti Jabri
    Economic Development Specialist

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