by Greg Grootendorst, Chief Economist and Katherine Rainone, Regional Economist
Figure 1: YoY percent change in total public school enrollment
Now that school’s out for summer in Hampton Roads, we dug into the Virginia Department of Education’s Fall enrollment data to understand the impact COVID-19 may have had on students in the region.
Many states, including Virginia, reported declines in public school enrollment for the Fall of 2020. From 2019 to 2020, Fall enrollment overall in Hampton Roads declined by over 4.5%, while public school enrollment in the same time period in Virginia declined by nearly 3.5%. Overall Fall public school enrollment in Hampton Roads has been declining for the past 15 years at roughly 0.5% per year, so a slight decline would not have been out of the ordinary, but this was over eight times the 15-year average annual rate of decline. Other states in the Southeast experienced similar declines in enrollment, with North Carolina experiencing 4% decline, Maryland at 3%, South Carolina at 2.6%, and the District of Columbia showed a 1% decline in enrollment during 2020.
Figure 2: Percent change in public school enrollment
Breaking enrollment down by grade level reveals that drops were concentrated primarily at the pre-K and kindergarten levels with double digit drops in enrollment. Elementary and middle school levels showed noticeable but much smaller decreases, while declines in high school enrollment were negligible.
These declines in early childhood education enrollment are likely due to a combination of factors. Pre-K is not required in Virginia, and families have the option to delay kindergarten entry, so parents of younger children may have opted for keeping them home out of an abundance of caution to prevent the spread of COVID. Some may have enrolled their children in private schools or child-care centers that offered in-person or full-day options if their public schools were not offering in-person education options, since online learning has proven particularly challenging for young children. Breaking education levels down by racial demographics and economic advantage status (economically disadvantaged is defined by the Virginia Department of Education as eligible for free/reduced meals, receives TANF, or is eligible for Medicaid), the data shows that decline in enrollment is not equal across all groups. While the declines in enrollment for Pre-K were larger overall across all groups, declines in Kindergarten enrollment saw greater declines in economically disadvantaged students when compared to those not considered disadvantaged. Additionally, a much greater decline in enrollment was evident in White kindergarten students when compared to Black and Hispanic students.
Figure 3: Percent change in Pre-K and Kindergarten enrollment
It is clear the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students in Hampton Roads significantly, especially at the early stage of childhood education. Early state-wide data from fall 2020 showed a roughly 10% increase relative to 2019 in the percentage of incoming kindergarten and first-grade students at high risk for reading failure based on literacy assessments. As vaccination rates in Virginia are relatively high and prevalence of COVID in Hampton Roads declines for the time being, public schools are expected to open to in-person learning in the Fall with the potential for enrollments to increase accordingly.
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Annualized Growth in GDP
Gross Domestic Product combines consumption, investment, net exports, and government spending to determine the size and general health of the economy. Real GDP increased 2.1% in Q4 2019 (GDP also grew by 2.1% in Q3 2019). The growth is driven in part by consumer spending, government spending, housing investment, and exports, while imports decreased. There was a decrease in inventory investment (-1.09%) as well as a reduction in business investment reflecting a decrease in structures and equipment.
Retail sales in Hampton Roads, as measured by the 1% local option sales tax, serve as an indicator for consumption in the region. Retail sales have bounced around, but after a surprisingly weak June, they continue to recover handily through to December (seasonally adjusted 3 month M.A.). Sales increased by 7.4% in December, making it Hampton Roads’ best December for total retail sales in recent years. Much of the recent growth in retail sales across the Commonwealth has been the result of increases in the number of online sales that are subject to tax.
New Car Sales
Car sales, as a durable good, may be put off until an individual’s economic prospects improve; thus, the number of new car sales indicates the level of confidence that households in Hampton Roads have in their financial future. Car sales have decreased and stabilized after an unusually strong September, hovering near the averages that have been observed over the past few years.
Hotel sales indicate the performance of the region’s tourism sector. In Q3 2019, accommodation sales decreased by 3.5%, settling at $220 billion for the quarter. This continues a pattern of slowing sales between second and third quarters in recent years, however, Q3 accommodation sales in 2019 increased 5.4% over Q3 2018. This shows accommodation sales are still trending upward from late-2013 lows.
Non-agricultural civilian employment figures are considered the best estimate of labor market activity by the National Bureau of Economic Research. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hampton Roads employment increased for the third month in a row since a recent high in June, to 796,600 positions in December of 2019. This figure represents a 1.05% growth from the same month in the previous year.
Employment Growth by Industry
As the job market grows or declines, there will be some industries whose experience does not resemble the regional trend. Several industries have seen significant decline year-over-year using BLS data, including Administrative & Support and Local government. The Construction and Leisure & Hospitality industries continue to see the largest increases in jobs when compared to the previous year, signs of strength due to their key role in the regional economy.
The unemployment rate is the percentage of the population actively seeking work but unable to obtain a position. Hampton Roads’ unemployment rate plateaued in December 2019 at 2.93%, the same rate it was in November. Comparatively, the national unemployment rate decreased again in December from the previous month to 3.5%, hovering at record lows.
The number of initial unemployment claims is a leading economic indicator reflecting those who are forced to leave work unexpectedly, thus revealing the strength of the job market with little lag time. Seasonal adjusted unemployment claims decreased in January 2020 to 2,438 claims, a decrease from December of 2019 but still above November’s recent low. This January number of claims represents a 17.6% decrease from the same month in 2018.
Permit data signals the level of construction employment and confidence regarding the future trajectory of the local economy. The level of new construction permitting for single family homes in December decreased to 352 permits, but when seasonally adjusted represents a slight increase relative to November. As the market continues to respond to the recently lowered federal interest rates, this indicator will be interesting to watch closely.
Home Price Index
The home price index measures the value of homes by evaluating changing price levels through repeated sales of properties. The index provides the highest quality data available on the trends in the real estate market. Hampton Roads’ home prices increased, yet again, by 4.2% over the previous year in Q3 2019, remaining below both the state and the nation. Regional housing values remain 4.3% below those seen during the peak of the housing boom.
Settled Home Sales
Settled home sales measure the level of transactions on the real estate market over time, and a healthy real estate market should have a consistent level of activity. The levels of existing home sales have been strong recently, with sales maintaining the same average level as during the housing boom in 2005. New construction sales in January saw a slight dip from December, continuing to represent roughly 11% of all sales.
Foreclosures have a significant impact on the real estate market and community, depressing home values on a neighborhood and regional level. Distressed homes’ share of total sales has particularly been shown to impact the sale price of existing homes. The foreclosure level is still elevated from the housing boom, but has been steadily declining, showing some of the lowest rates since 2009. Foreclosures constituted 4.2% of all home resales in December of 2019, down from a recent high of 8.1% in April of 2016 (12-month average).