West Virginia’s unemployment rate is a little better at 12.9 percent

Only in 2020 would you look at West Virginia’s unemployment rate of 12.9 percent and think it’s not as bad as it could be.

Workforce West Virginia released the state’s latest unemployment figures on Tuesday afternoon.

The rate for May was 12.9 percent.

That was lower than the state’s rate for April, which was 15.2 percent.

The number of unemployed West Virginians decreased 23,400 to 100,400.

The relative improvement came as economic restrictions were eased from the coronavirus pandemic. There was also relief from the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

Brian Lego

“The first thing is, the drop in the unemployment rate and jump in nonfarm payroll were not surprising, as it coincides a rebound in economic activity that occurred during the first half of May as a result of shelter-in-place orders being relaxed and certain sectors of the economy being allowed to resume operations,” said Brian Lego, an economist with West Virginia University.

“It’s good that the unemployment rate dropped 3 percentage points, but we still clearly have a weak labor market that will take a lot of time to get back to some semblance of normal conditions.”

West Virginia’s unemployment — like conditions across the nation — has surged as economic activity was curtailed this spring because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The national unemployment rate for May was 13.3 percent.

West Virginia’s unemployment rate in May 2019 was 4.7 percent.

“The overall theme of what we see nationally and the state, with this release, that I would emphasize is that the May data reflect the rebound that comes from the initial re-opening of several consumer-oriented sectors,” said Lego, economic forecaster with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU.

“However, with a double-digit unemployment rate and nearly 81,000 jobs lost in the state since February, the economy still remains incredibly fragile and will require a combination of significant improvements in consumer and business confidence.”

West Virginia’s May statistics showed 8,800 job gains for the month in leisure and hospitality and 2,400 in construction.

“However, each of these sectors’ level of employment is below what it was in February, and in the case of accommodation & food services they are still down by more than one third since February 2020,” Lego said.

More job gains for the month included 1,900 in trade, transportation and utilities and 1,700 in manufacturing and 1,700 in education and health services.

“Health care providers added an estimated 1,700 jobs during the month, but they have 10,000 fewer jobs compared to February.”

And, over the past month, there were 2,900 job losses in government and 500 in other sectors.

Altogether, though, the jobs picture in West Virginia is better than it was a month ago. And the trend is improving.

Jessi Troyan

“This is good news. At its core, this means that over 23,000 of our fellow West Virginians have found work, and are able to provide for their families again,” said Jessi Troyan, an economist with the conservative Cardinal Institute.

“Correspondingly, this means fewer folks are depending on the state for assistance. In total, these numbers suggest that the economic recovery will be quicker than what many people expected, but it remains critically important to keep the momentum going.”

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