West Virginia’s employment picture has improved in several ways after being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, according to data state legislators heard Sunday.
The state’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for July, the most recent full month available, was 5 percent.
That is below the national unemployment rate of 5.2 percent.
It’s also an improving trend over the course of the covid-19 pandemic. West Virginia’s unemployment rate for June was just a tick higher, 5.1 percent. In May, the rate was 6.1 percent.
July 2020, when aspects of the economy were still shut down or suppressed, West Virginia’s unemployment rate was 9.5 percent.
“Recovery is coming,” said Scott Adkins, the acting director of Workforce West Virginia, who noted that the economy hasn’t bounced back all the way yet.
He was addressing members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Workforce Investment for Economic Development, which gathered Sunday during legislative interim meetings.
West Virginia’s overall employment numbers also have been improving.
The state listed 764,000 employed in July.
That was up from 761,600 in June. And that was up from 751,000 employed in May.
Last January, when West Virginia’s covid surge was at its previous height, only 727,900 were identified as employed.
“That’s not to say we have gained all those jobs back from the pandemic. We have not,” Adkins told lawmakers, saying more work must be done.
He noted that West Virginia’s workforce participation rate is last in the nation at 55.2 percent.
That is up from the recent low of 53.2 percent in April 2020, as the pandemic cranked up and the economy largely shut down.
In February 2020, before the pandemic really hit, West Virginia’s workforce participation was 55.7 percent.
Delegate Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson, asked Adkins what more can be done to get West Virginians back into the workforce.
“Why can’t we move people off unemployment?” asked Clark, a golf course owner.
“I am so understaffed at my business. I can’t find even unskilled workers because they’re making so much money on unemployment that they don’t want to come off for a part time or seasonal type of job.”
That question and others resulted in some discussion of the recourse for businesses when people receiving unemployment benefits take a pass on jobs that align with their skills. Those applicants may be reported, but businesses may view doing so as a hassle.
Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, said much of the discussion had been about employers without much curiosity about workers and their situations. She suggested a survey of people receiving benefits to find out more about why they are unemployed.
“Has there been any thought of talking to the people in the labor force?” she asked.