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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske July 30, 2021

Biden's claim about Virginia unemployment largely holds up

If Your Time is short

  • Unemployment went down in all 38 cities and 95 counties in Virginia when Terry McAuliffe was governor from 2014-2018.
  • Unemployment in rural Virginia fell by 39% during his term.
  • McAuliffe governed during boom years and Virginia's economy largely followed national trends.

President Joe Biden recently lauded once and possibly future Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s record as a job creator when he led Virginia from 2014 to 2018.

"Unemployment went down in every single county, including rural Virginia by nearly 50%," Biden said during a July 23 campaign speech for McAuliffe in Arlington County.

Biden’s statement has a familiar ring; McAuliffe has made similar claims for years. As we examine the president’s claim, keep in mind that McAuliffe was governor during a prosperous time. The United States had shaken the Great Recession and was well advanced into what became a record 128-month economic expansion.

Cities and counties

Both the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed people dropped in all 95 Virginia counties and 38 cities during McAuliffe’s term, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Virginia's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5% when McAuliffe took office in January 2014 and sank to 3.6% during his last full month as governor in December 2017. During the same span, the U.S. unemployment rate dropped from 6.7% to 4.1%.

Virginia had the 13th lowest unemployment rate among states and the District of Columbia when McAuliffe took office. It ranked 17th in the nation when he left.

The number of unemployed Virginians fell from almost 228,000 to about 144,000 during McAuliffe’s term — a 37% decrease. The number of unemployed people in the U.S. dropped from almost 10.2 million to almost 6.6 million during the same time — a 35%  decrease.

Rural areas

To define rural areas in the state, we relied on a map posted by the Virginia Department Health that identifies rural counties and towns. Then we added BLS estimates for the number of unemployed people in each of those 50 localities.

There were about 37,000 unemployed people in those rural areas when McAuliffe took office and 22,500 when he left. That’s a 39% decrease which, although sizable, seems a little below Biden’s claim of almost 50%.

Featured Fact-check

We asked the White House for the evidence supporting Biden’s statement and did not hear back. McAuliffe’s campaign tied the president’s remark to a 2018 PolitiFact Virginia fact-check on a similar claim by the former governor. McAuliffe said that when he had been governor, "every single city and county in Virginia, their unemployment dropped, and in most of the rural communities, it dropped by over 50 percent." 

We rated McAuliffe’s statement Mostly True, taking slight issue with the part of his claim that most rural areas saw their unemployment cut by more than half. "If McAuliffe had said most rural localities had seen a 45 percent drop in their number of unemployed people, he would have been correct," we wrote.

Biden’s statement, however, is slightly different.  He says unemployment went down across rural Virginia by "nearly 50%." That requires different math than McAuliffe’s claim. 

PolitiFact usually puts a caveat on fact-checks about employment numbers. Although presidents, governors and mayors love to take credit for good numbers, economists generally say politicians have only a marginal effect on the numbers. The economy, they say, ebbs and flows with global trends over which politicians have little control.

While Virginia unemployment significantly fell during McAuliffe’s years, the decreases were in step with national trends.

Our ruling

Biden said that during McAuliffe’s term as governor, "Unemployment went down in every single county, including rural Virginia by nearly 50%."

Biden is right on the first part; each Virginia locality did see a drop in unemployment during McAuliffe’s term from 2014 to 2018. McAuliffe governed during boom years and unemployment rates fell in every state.

The second part of Biden’s statement, that unemployment decreased by almost 50 percent in rural Virginia, is slightly inflated. It fell by 39%.

On the whole, we rate Biden’s statement Mostly True.


Our Sources

Joe Biden, Comments at McAuliffe rally, July 23, 2021 (21:12 mark).

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, "Chart Book: Tracking the Post-Great Recession Economy," July 22,2021.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Local Area Unemployment Statistics," accessed July 27, 2021.

BLS, "Unemployment rate by state," January 2014, December 2017.

BLS, "Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey," accessed July 28, 2021.

PolitiFact Virginia, "Terry McAuliffe is mostly right about his jobs record," Dec. 4, 2018.

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, "Unemployment Rate in Virginia," accessed July 28, 2021.

Virginia Department of Health, Rural map, accessed July 27, 2021.

Email from Renzo Olivari, spokesman for Terry McAuliffe campaign, July 28, 2021.


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Biden's claim about Virginia unemployment largely holds up

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