Economics in the Commonwealth

State of Housing #5 • 619 Words

Editor’s note:
This is the fifth edition of our “State of Housing” series, which breaks down the HB854 Statewide Housing Study released this January. You can find previous posts in this series here.

Our economy dictates what housing Virginians can—or can’t—afford.

The third part of the HB854 Statewide Housing Study includes eight chapters analyzing data on housing demand and needs across the Commonwealth.

In this edition, we’ll focus on the economic trends chapter. It explains Virginia’s employment, income, and poverty trends. All of these influence the ability of Virginians to afford safe and stable housing. Here are some of the findings we think are most important.

Pre-pandemic, the Virginia economy was recovering from the Great Recession.

The impacts of the Great Recession led to employment declines across Virginia until the end of 2009—with a total loss of 200,000 jobs. Between 2010 and 2020, most of Virginia had recovered from the economic downturn, adding nearly 60,000 new jobs each year on average. Most of that job growth occurred in our metropolitan areas, while many rural areas have still yet to recover to pre-Recession employment levels.

But cue COVID-19. Economic shutdowns had severe impacts on the recovery, with a loss of nearly half a million jobs at the start of the pandemic in April 2020. Virginia communities are well on their way to recovery, but have still yet to reach pre-pandemic employment levels. Disproportionate job losses by Black and Hispanic Virginians in 2020, who often fill essential service occupations, will worsen existing disparities in income equality and economic opportunity.

Why this matters:

More jobs mean more employees who need housing. Unfortunately, sustained higher-than-average unemployment levels for Virginians of color following the pandemic will be one more obstacle in the way of solving our housing disparities.

Two of Virginia’s fastest growing job sectors pay less than $35,000 annually.

The two fastest growing job sectors in Virginia have been healthcare support and transportation and material moving. These job sectors are essential to keeping Virginians healthy and ensuring a robust economy, but the median annual wage for jobs in these sectors is well below $35,000. This is far below the income needed to afford the typical home price in Virginia, even when doubled up with another similar worker.

Projected job growth from 2018 to 2028 in Virginia will be diverse—from over 40,000 jobs in the computer and mathematical sector and near 40,000 in the food prep and serving sector. Incomes will vary across these industries and will lead to a growing demand for a range of housing options, including Missing Middle housing.

Why it matters:

A diverse workforce requires diverse housing options. Without abundant choices, workers will have to trade affordability for longer commutes, creating more traffic congestion.

Racial income disparities persist—impacting Black Virginians the most.

In 2019, the median Black household income of $53,896 was $28,716 less than a white household ($82,612). This gap has remained largely unchanged since 2010. These income disparities vary across Virginia; in Alexandria, the Black-white median household income gap was near $53,000, while in Roanoke County it was only about $3,000. 

Coupled with wide income gaps, disproportionate unemployment rates for Virginians of color contribute to persistent wealth disparities. In 2020, unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic Virginians spiked from about 4% to over 9%. Even Asian unemployment rates spiked over six percentage points—from 2.1% to 8.6% from 2019 to 2020. Racial disparities in incomes and employment have ripple effects in housing outcomes, often leading to issues in securing safe and stable housing (i.e. evictions and homelessness).

Why it matters:

A continuing racial income gap will make addressing the racial homeownership gap even more challenging than it already is.

Coming up next time

In the next edition of this series, we’ll dive into the third of the research and findings section—inventory and production trends across Virginia’s housing stock.


The original iteration of this article previously stated: “Most of that job growth occurred in our metropolitan areas, while many rural areas have still yet to recover to pre-pandemic employment levels.” This has been corrected to “…pre-Recession employment levels.”

The original iteration of this article previously referred to: “Projected job growth from 2018 to 2018 in Virginia will be diverse…” This has been corrected to “…2018 to 2028…”

Like what you’re reading? Support the work that makes it happen.

The FWD brings you the latest developments in the world of affordable housing, ad-free. HousingForward needs your support to continue providing this valuable service.

Can’t find what you’re looking for?
Contact us for more info.