W.Va. unemployment rate drops to near pre-pandemic levels

Photo Courtesy/WV Governor’s Office Gov. Jim Justice, shown during an earlier COVID-19 press briefing, said Tuesday he is ‘encouraged to see that, month after month, our job numbers continue to improve and we are trending back toward where they were before.’

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is nearly back to where it was in March as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to cause shutdowns of businesses.

According to WorkForce West Virginia Tuesday, the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October was 6.4 percent. That’s down from 8.6 percent in September.

Total employment increased by 8,100 since September, with total unemployment decreasing by 18,100, though 10,000 West Virginians left the civilian labor force between September and October.

“There’s no doubt that the pandemic was like a cannonball to the stomach, but I’m encouraged to see that, month after month, our job numbers continue to improve and are trending back toward where they were before,” Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday in a statement.

It’s also the lowest the unemployment rate has been since the start of the pandemic. The state’s unemployment rate in February was 4.9 percent. That number crept up in March to 6 percent after Justice issued a state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on March 16 and started issuing executive orders limiting what businesses could be open.

After the Department of Health and Human Resources reported the state’s first positive coronavirus case on March 17, Justice ordered all restaurants and bars closed except for carry-out or drive-thru. That order was followed on March 18 with the closure of gyms and recreational facilities. Barbershops, hair salons, and nail salons were closed March 19.

By March 23, Justice issued a stay-at-home order that limited non-essential travel except for medical needs, groceries and supplies and travel to work. Non-essential businesses were either closed or employees had to work from home when possible.

By the end of April, the stay-at-home order was replaced with a safer-at-home order encouraging residents to remain at home when possible. Businesses and services were allowed to reopen in phases and with restrictions to limit spread of COVID-19, such as limits on capacity, additional cleaning requirements and the wearing of masks or face coverings. By the end of April, the unemployment rate peaked at 15.9 percent.

As businesses began to resume services, the unemployment rate continued to drop, from 12.9 percent in May, 10.5 percent in June, 10 percent in July and 8.9 percent in August.

While October’s unemployment rate was 6.4 percent, the U.S. average unemployment rate was 6.9 percent.

“Before the pandemic hit, we were churning out the best unemployment rates and total job numbers that West Virginia had seen in over a decade,” Justice said. “West Virginia has now had a better unemployment rate than the national average for four of the last six months.”

During this same period, the state’s tax collections for personal income tax, corporate net income tax and the consumer sales and use tax also started coming in above estimates, allowing the state to end the first four months of fiscal 2021 with a surplus for the general revenue budget. This also is with the state’s coal and natural gas severance tax revenue coming in month after month below estimates.

“Everyone needs to realize that West Virginia’s economy is thriving and doing terrific, especially considering that we have the lowest severance tax percentage, relative to our revenue, that we’ve had in decades,” Justice said. “We’ve diversified our state in many ways, but, at the same time, we are not going to forget our coal miners and our gas workers.”


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