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West Virginia jobless rate nears pre-pandemic levels

CVS Pharmacy in Kanawha City advertises for help. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — Nearly 15 months since COVID-19 shutdowns caused West Virginia’s unemployment rate to jump to more than 15 percent, the state’s unemployment rate is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.

According to a monthly report released Tuesday by WorkForce West Virginia, the state’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.8 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May.

West Virginia’s unemployment rate was better than the U.S. rate of 5.8 percent. Gov. Jim Justice praised the state’s May unemployment rate Tuesday during his coronavirus briefing.

“Our unemployment rate continues to fall in West Virginia,” Justice said. “We dropped three-tenths of 1 percent in May. We want to continue to whittle on the number so this unemployment rate keeps on dropping.”

According to WorkForce West Virginia, the number of unemployed West Virginians dropped by 2,300 to 43,600, with total employment up by 800 jobs in May. However, total nonfarm payroll employment decreased by 2,400 in May, led by 1,800 in declines in the service-providing sector and 600 jobs in the goods-producing sector.

The decreases in the goods-providing sector include 200 construction jobs, 200 manufacturing jobs, and 100 mining and logging jobs. Gains in the service-providing sector included 1,800 jobs in leisure and hospitality, 1,000 jobs in professional and business services, 400 in financial activities, and 100 in information. Declines included 4,500 in government jobs; 500 in trade, transportation, and utilities; and 100 in education and health services.

Despite the loss of jobs during most of the pandemic, total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 52,000 jobs over May 2020. This was driven by 23,300 jobs in leisure and hospitality; 7,200 in trade, transportation, and utilities; 6,100 in education and health services; 4,200 in professional and business services; 2,700 in mining and logging; 2,200 in construction; 2,100 in manufacturing; 1,700 in government; and 1,500 in other services.

West Virginia’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent in March 2020, jumping to 15.6 percent in April after Justice issued a stay-at-home order for the general public and ordered all non-essential businesses to close. Those orders were lifted in May 2020, replaced with a safer-at-home order and businesses re-opening in phases and with restrictions to limit spread of COVID-19.

Both the previous administration of president Donald Trump and the current administration of President Joe Biden have continued to extend federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, with the most recent extension continuing until Sept. 6. But with growing demand for workers in low-income jobs, 25 states including West Virginia are ending participation in those extended benefits early. West Virginia’s program ends Saturday.

“West Virginians have access to thousands of jobs right now,” said Justice. “We need everyone back to work. Our small businesses and West Virginia’s economy depend on it.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com.

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