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West Virginia Jobless Rate Drops to 4.6%, a 14-Year Low

Photo Courtesy W.Va. Governor’s Office Ed Gaunch, cabinet secretary of the Department of Commerce, discusses the historically low unemployment numbers the Mountain State currently enjoys during a press conference with Gov. Jim Justice.

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s unemployment rate quickly recovered from the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown of non-essential businesses and the reduction in workforce during the course of the pandemic.

It’s now at lows not seen in 14 years.

According to WorkForce West Virginia, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for September was 4.6% compared to the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.8% for September.

It also was West Virginia’s lowest seasonally adjusted unemployment rate since August 2008, during the 2008 housing market collapse and the great recession kicked in. But West Virginia’s non-seasonally adjusted unemployment number was 3.2%, the lowest in state history.

Gov. Jim Justice and state Commerce Department officials celebrated the numbers Wednesday morning in a briefing at the Capitol.

“When I became your governor, I promised you that jobs would always be at the top of my priority list. I’ve kept that promise,” Justice said. “I couldn’t be more proud, I really couldn’t.”

The numbers didn’t just happen, Ed Gaunch, cabinet secretary of the Department of Commerce, said.

“It’s not an accident, it’s not by osmosis. It’s not by happenstance. It’s the result of excellent, top-down leadership. … The results speak for themselves,” Gaunch said. “There have been very strategic and intentional efforts by this administration to do just what we’re seeing here today: improve the climate in West Virginia and improve our unemployment rate. This is an historic day.”

West Virginia’s 4.6% unemployment was a far cry from the 15.6% unemployment rate in April 2020 after Justice issued a stay-at-home order for residents and ordered all non-essential businesses to close to control the spread of COVID-19.

“West Virginia continues to recover from the unprecedented attack on our economy caused by COVID-19,” said Scott Adkins, acting commissioner of WorkForce West Virginia. “West Virginia is moving in the right direction in supporting employers and making sure we have good workers and good-paying jobs.”

However, despite the positive unemployment numbers, West Virginia’s labor force participation rate remains the lowest in the country at a seasonally adjusted rate of 55.2% as of August, up from 54.7% 12 months previously.

According to a report released Tuesday, the number of unemployed West Virginians was 36,000 in September, decreasing by 2,100 people from August with total unemployment growing by 1,200 over the month. Total non-farm employment dropped by 800 and the service providing sector lost 1,700 jobs, but the goods-producing sector picked up 900 jobs.

Within the goods-producing sector, mining/logging and construction lead the way. Both the mining/logging and construction industries saw gains of 700 jobs each for a total of 1,400 jobs, offsetting 500 jobs lost in the manufacturing industry in September.

Some of the largest job losses occurred in the education and healthcare fields. Education and health saw 1,100 in employment declines. Other job losses in the service-providing sector included 500 in leisure and hospitality, 300 in financial activities, 200 in information, 200 in other services, 100 in professional and business services, and 100 in government.

Over the last year since September 2020, non-farm payroll increased by 20,200 jobs. Gains over the last 12 months include: 5,900 in leisure and hospitality, 3,100 in government, 3,000 in construction, 2,900 in professional and business services, 1,600 in mining/logging, 1,500 in manufacturing, 1,300 in trade/transportation/utilities, 800 in education/health services, 200 in financial activities, and 100 in other services.

The only declines over 12 months were 200 jobs in information employment. Efforts are underway to recruit remote workers in the information industry, including the Ascend WV program launched in April that offers remote workers a $12,000 signing bonus and free outdoor recreation opportunities.

“We are on the move,” Justice said. “West Virginia is becoming the place that people have missed. We’re hopeful in every way that more and more folks will come to West Virginia.”

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