CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice is touting West Virginia’s lowest unemployment rate in more than a decade.
Numbers for August, 2019, show the state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate has dropped to 4.6 percent.
That number is West Virginia’s best unemployment rate since October 2008, when it was 4.4 percent.
“When you think back to before I walked in the door, it was tough, that’s all there is to it,” Justice stated. “Now, we’re finally starting to tell our story; that West Virginia is the perfect place to live and work in paradise.
“Businesses are realizing West Virginia is the diamond in the rough that they may have missed in a lot of ways. Now, with that realization, we hope to see more and more businesses choose West Virginia as a place to grow and bring more jobs along with them.”
West Virginia’s unemployment rate was at a low of 4.0 percent in July, 2008, near the beginning of the Great Recession.
The state’s unemployment rate peaked at 8.8 percent in the fall of 2010 and has been trending downward ever since.
West Virginia’s unemployment rate remains higher than the national average, which is at 3.7 percent.
The unemployment rate is defined as the percentage of unemployed workers in the total labor force. The rate counts those actively seeking employment.
West Virginia reaching the current mark is good news, agreed Brian Lego, economic forecaster with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.
“There’s enough evidence out there that the state’s labor market has improved compared to where it was a few years ago,” Lego said.
But a snapshot of the unemployment rate doesn’t tell the whole story, he cautioned.
Because the unemployment rate counts only those who are actively looking for work, it doesn’t show the whole picture.
West Virginia’s overall labor force participation rate continues to be alarming, Lego said.
“If you look at the unemployment rate overall it has been coming down from where it was a few years ago,” he said.
“But if you extract that from a larger perspective and look at things like the labor force participation rate, the unemployment rate from a macro perspective doesn’t clue you into as much as you would like to.”
The state’s labor force participation rate as of July was 54.8 percent. That percentage has gone up but it remains last in the nation.
The labor force participation rate is a percentage of the civilian population. It counts both those who are working plus the unemployed because they are looking for work.
So that’s about half of West Virginia’s population.
The other half is considered out of the labor force either because of age, disability or because they have given up on looking for a job.
“Any choice of their own or choice not of their own that takes them out of the workforce they’re no longer counted,” Lego said.
Justice, in recent months, has pointed to other positive economic indicators.
West Virginia led the nation in gross domestic product growth for the first quarter of 2019.
West Virginia also led the nation in personal income growth for the first quarter of 2019, with a 5.6 percent growth rate.
Both are cause for celebration, but because the statistics are calculated by percent change they take into account prior economic weakness and growth over a relatively short period of time.
Overall employment in West Virginia is at 756,400, the highest it’s been in about a decade.
Justice, in his statement, again credited the work of his administration.
“We keep setting records and getting better and better every month,” Justice stated.
“It’s the result of a lot of hard work that’s being done by a lot of great people in my administration to bring more job opportunities to West Virginia and to make sure our citizens have a chance to get a great paycheck and are able to put food on the table for their families.”