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Justice weighs in on lower unemployment

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice praised the state’s June unemployment rate Wednesday, even as he weighed extending the closure of bars in Monongalia County due to the explosion of the virus in young adults.

According to a release from WorkForce West Virginia Wednesday, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June was 10.4 percent, a 2.5 percent drop from May’s unemployment number of 12.9 percent and a 5.5 percent drop from 15.9 percent unemployment in April. The national unemployment rate was 11.1 percent in June.

Justice, speaking Wednesday during his coronavirus briefing from the Capitol, was pleased the joblessness number was coming down, but said many people remained out of work who needed help.

“It is an enormous number,” Justice said. “We’ve got a long way to go to get all of these people back to work. We’re going to work it as hard as we can to achieve that.”

The civilian labor force in June in West Virginia totaled 764,300, with 684,400 in total employment and 79,400 in total unemployment. According to WorkForce, June’s nonfarm payroll employment was led by the service providing sector with 32,500 jobs, followed by 1,200 jobs in the good-producing sector. In the service providing sector, employment was led by 18,800 jobs in the hospitality and leisure sector and 11,000 jobs in government partially due to paid poll workers for the June 9 primary.

West Virginia started the first three months of 2020 with low unemployment rates: 5 percent in January, 4.9 percent in February and 6 percent in March as the coronavirus started making its way into the state. The first positive case of the virus was March 17, which resulted in the closing of in-person dining, bars, casinos, barber shops, and nail and hair salons.

By March 23, Justice issued an executive order closing all non-essential businesses and required residents to stay home except for essential activities.

The order was lifted in phases starting at the end of April, when the unemployment rate peaked at 15.9 percent.

But Monday, Justice issued several executive orders to bring the 100-person limit on group gatherings back to no more than 25 people, re-closed all fairs and festivals and closed all bars in Monongalia County for 10 days due to spikes in COVID-19 infections in the state.

According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, the state has 1,371 active cases of COVID-19, including people in self-quarantine and hospitalizations. The majority of active cases – 23 percent – are residents between the ages of 20 and 29. As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 388 active cases in Monongalia County alone, with 53 percent of cases between the ages of 20-29.

“We have an incredible amount of people who are getting this terrible disease that are young people,” Justice said.

Justice said Wednesday that the age breakdown of cases in Monongalia County between July 1 and July 14 shows that 73 percent of positive cases were those between the ages of 18 and 29. Health officials attribute this spike to young adults and college students returning to West Virginia University after vacationing in places, such as Myrtle Beach, or congregating in bars. Justice said he was prepared to extend the closure of bars in Monongalia past 10 days if necessary.

“The most probable place for that age group to get this disease would be in a bar setting,” Justice said. “The bars are the No. 1 place that we had to shut down. We shut them down for 10 days. We may very well have to extend that. The odds are we’re going to have to extend it, especially if our numbers keep climbing the way they are.”

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

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