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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

State of the Commonwealth Report Offers Cautious Optimism for a Pandemic Recovery

After 2020, a year which Virginians "would prefer to forget," the COVID-19 pandemic kept its grip in 2021. However, there are indications that 2022 could see the commonwealth return to some degree of its pre-pandemic prosperity.

Old Dominion University's 2021 State of the Commonwealth Report laid out a vision where Virginia can return some semblance of rhythm to the lives of Virginians. However, the report, released Sunday, includes several potential landmines that could derail this return to normalcy.

The report is available at the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis & Policy WEBSITE.

"As Virginia prepares to enter 2022 with a new governor (Republican Glenn Youngkin) and a new (Republican) majority in the House of Delegates, the challenge is to build upon the recovery of 2021 and address fractures that exist in the commonwealth's economy," the report notes.

The most immediate concern is continued focus on vaccinations, including booster shots, for the Virginia population, the 172-page report notes. While Virginia's estimated COVID-19 death toll of 162 per 100,000 is the lowest in the South, pockets of unvaccinated residents and new variants such as Omicron continue to pose a risk.

The unprecedented surge in unemployment in the early days of the pandemic has been blunted, but employment growth still lags more than 100,000 jobs behind its February 2020 peak. The "Great Resignation" - a nationwide phenomenon of employees leaving their posts - has dampened the COVID-19 economic recovery. However, the report notes that reasons for the mass resignations vary wildly (and are frequently oversimplified in discourse about the issue). Unstable in-person schooling, a child-care shortage and pandemic-related health concerns such as long COVID are all seen as reasons why employees have been slow to come back to the workforce, leading some workers to "reevaluate their life choices," the report notes.

The state is in a fiscal surplus, however. But "the commonwealth must avoid the temptation to rapidly expand public spending and or cut taxes without clear analysis of the costs and benefits," the annual report notes, suggesting surpluses be placed in a revenue stabilization fund or invested in durable benefits such as broadband expansion or Port of Virginia enhancements.

"While the federal government may lack fiscal discipline or foresight, that is no reason for Virginia to follow in its footsteps," the report notes.

The final piece of advice from report authors, including lead author Robert M. McNab, director of the Dragas Center for Economic Analysis & Policy, is to not forget the "Virginia Way," which has governed public life in the commonwealth for 400 years.

"Not every step has been perfect, but the general arc of progress in the state has been moving forward," the report notes. "While we may disagree on many things, we should always keep in mind the ties that bind us and not be distracted by the differences that separate us."

Other chapters in the 2021 State of the Commonwealth Report include:

A Recovery at Different Speeds - Virginia's Metropolitan Areas: While Hampton Roads and Richmond have trailed the performance of the state and nation since the onset of the pandemic, smaller metros like Blacksburg and Winchester have recovered jobs more quickly.

Bounce Back? The Pandemic and Tourism in Virginia: How have hotel and hospitality markets in Virginia performed during the pandemic, and will 2022 bring good news to a battered industry?

Let It Ride - Casinos, Online Betting and the Future of Gambling in Virginia: With casinos opening soon in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth, the benefits and costs of casinos are examined.

Viewed Through a Different Lens - Evaluating Virginia Higher Education: As the employment needs of the modern workforce change, the report explores what the future may hold for higher education in Virginia.

The Winchester Metropolitan Area Outperforms the Commonwealth: Forgotten in conversations about growth in Virginia is how the smaller metropolitan area of Winchester has outperformed other areas in the state.

A free download of this year's State of the Commonwealth or any of the Dragas Center's reports are available at http://www.ceapodu.com/.

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