While the economy of Rappahannock County has historically been based upon agriculture, it no longer employs as high a percentage of the work force as once was the case. Indeed, the decade of 1990-2000 saw the most precipitate decline in Agricultural employment in our county’s history. Although the percentage of persons employed in that sector of the economy increased slightly between 1980-1990, it is still far below the 1970 figure, which in turn was lower than figures for previous decades. There have been a number of major investments made in agriculture over the past four years, particularly in heretofore “niche” areas such as grapes and organic products that may reverse this trend. While agriculture is still the foundation of the County's economy, more residents depend on other sectors of the economy for their main employment needs.
More generally, between 1980 and 2000, the total number of employed persons increased from 2,517 in 1980 to 3,375 in 1990 and to 3,591 in 2000. Reflecting the rural character of the County, production, crafts, operations, farming and general labor of all kinds were represented in Rappahannock County at a rate greater than that for the State.
It is worth noting that the proportion of workers who are classified by the Bureau of the Census as self-employed remains substantially higher in Rappahannock than many other jurisdictions; 612 of total employment of 3,591. This translates to 17.1% of workers as opposed to lesser percentages, generally in single digits, in adjacent counties. Reflecting the increasing commuting trend towards the governmental employment centers to the north and east, adjacent counties had an average of 15% of their worker populations employed in Federal, State or Local governments. Rappahannock, in an increase of over 5% since 1990, had 17% of its workforce employed by a governmental entity.
The County unemployment rate has historically lagged behind that of adjacent jurisdictions, the Commonwealth as a whole, and of the nation. This is not inconsistent with the experience of other rural communities, whose citizens' access to employment opportunities are constrained by transportation limitations. Be that as it may, between 1990 and 2000 the County’s unemployment rate has precipitately declined, to the point that it generally has the lowest rate in the Rappahannock-Rapidan Region (RRRC). In the year 2000, the unemployment rate was 1.5%, and it has not exceeded 3% through 2003.
The importance of women in the civilian labor force has grown dramatically in the decades since the World War II, with Rappahannock experiencing the same trend as the nation, albeit at a more modest pace. The 2000 Census revealed that approximately 1,188 women 16 years of age or older were not in the labor force, while approximately 1,641 were. Of this latter group, only 52, or approximately 3%, were unemployed.
This labor force participation rate (58.0%) is slightly higher than that of other rural areas of the United States. By comparison Fauquier, Culpeper, Madison, Warren and Page Counties had a female labor force participation rate of 62.0%, 58.2%, 57.6%, 59%, and 55%, respectively.
In contrast to the type of occupation a person holds, employer types describe the type of industry in which a person is employed. Historically, one of the most conspicuous aspects of this classification for Rappahannock County has been the continued decline of agricultural employment. As previously noted, this decline not only slowed over the previous decade, but in fact underwent a very modest resurgence.
In 1970, 20.3% of County residents were employed by the agricultural industry. This figure dropped to 11.8% in 1980 and increased slightly to 12.1% in 1990 before declining through 2000 as noted above. Management, professional, and related occupations have replaced construction as the most important industry sector in Rappahannock County with 35.8% of those employed registering this as their employer type in 2000. Perhaps functioning as a mirror of the sweeping changes in occupation in the country as a whole, the dominant occupation sector for each Census from 1970 through 2000 has been, respectively, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Construction and Management, Professional and Related.
Anecdotally, it is worth noting that Rappahannock County residents endure the third highest average travel time to work (34.7 minutes) of any jurisdiction in the Commonwealth.
As reported by the Virginia Employment Commission, there were 220 establishments in Rappahannock County offering some form of employment in 2002. During the fourth quarter of 2002, these establishments employed 1,351 persons with average weekly wages per worker being $574.
The largest employer in the County is the Rappahannock County School Board.