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Numbers Don’t Tell Story

Gov. Jim Justice is right: “The numbers don’t lie.”

He made the statement during an announcement celebrating what his office say is “an all-time record for the lowest unemployment rate recorded in state history for the 8th consecutive month.” In May, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in West Virginia was 3.5%.

That is good news. But there is more to it than that.

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia’s labor force participation rate for April 2022 was 55.1%. For the same month, the labor force participation rate for the U.S. was 62.2%.

Only a little more than half of West Virginians are participating in the labor market — working or actively seeking a job. And 3.5% of those people are unemployed.

Here’s a snippet from Investopedia to clarify:

“Economists … argue that the decline (in labor force participation) is the result of low-skilled workers losing their jobs to outsourcing or automation, having no success finding new employment, and therefore dropping out of the labor force entirely. For this reason, they feel the participation rate is a more accurate measure of the state of the job market than the unemployment rate.”

“We just keep pouring it on in West Virginia, month after month, and I couldn’t be more proud,” Justice said, as he sought to take credit for the low unemployment rate.

Make no mistake, 3.5% unemployment in the Mountain State is positive news. But it is not the whole picture.

“We tightened our belt when we had to, and we put in a lot of hard work,” Justice said in announcing the May numbers.

He’d better get rid of all that past tense, because the numbers are telling a hard truth. There is work to do.

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