According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provisional estimates, in July 2003 the seasonally adjusted civilian labor force in Virginia numbered 3,806,200, with approximately 151,600 workers unemployed, yielding an unemployment rate of 4.0%, compared to the national average of 6.2% for the same period. Since the beginning of the BLS data series in 1978, the highest unemployment rate recorded was 8.0% in March 1982. The historical low was 2.1% in July 2000. In 2001, an estimated 6.5% of the labor force was employed in construction; 11.3% in manufacturing; 5.4% in transportation, communications, and public utilities; 17.8% in trade; 6.7% in finance, insurance, and real estate; 27.2% in services; 18.6% in government; and 1.8% in agriculture.
Although the state has no equal-employment statute, an equal-pay law does prohibit employers from wage discrimination on the basis of sex, and the Virginia Employment Contracting Act established as state policy the elimination of racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual bias in the employment practices of government agencies and contractors. The labor movement has grown slowly, partly because of past practices of racial segregation that prevented workers from acting in concert.
The US Department of Labor reported that in 2002, 189,000 of Virginia's 3,208,000 employed wage and salary workers were members of unions. This represented 5.9% of those so employed, up from 5.0% in 2001, but down from 6.8% in 1998. The national average is 13.2%. In all, 249,000 workers (7.8%) were represented by unions. In addition to union members, this category includes workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract. Virginia is one of 22 states with a right-to-work law.