Employment: Forward progress must be maintained
Gov. Jim Justice is justified in bragging about our state’s economy. “This is something all West Virginians should be proud of,” he said last week.
As the governor pointed out, 2019 was “our best year of job numbers in West Virginia in more than a decade.”
Go just slightly beyond a decade back, however, and the plain truth is evident: Our economy in terms of employment continues to lag behind most of the rest of the country.
Employment last year averaged about 759,000 people, WorkForce West Virginia reports. The year ended with a 5 percent unemployment rate, compared to the national 3.5 percent.
But average employment in 2008 was about 777,000 people, also according to WorkForce West Virginia. That is 18,000 more than the 2019 average.
A deeper look at the numbers reveals that one factor in our improved unemployment rate during the past several years has been that there are fewer people in our state seeking jobs. WorkForce West Virginia puts the available workforce for last year at 797,800 — compared to 812,900 in 2008.
We are making a comeback from the “Great Recession,” as Justice noted. The current 5 percent unemployment rate certainly beats the 8.7 percent recorded in 2010.
Still, West Virginia’s economy has undergone a seismic shift during the past 20 years. The coal industry never will rebound to the employment levels of the past. If our children and grandchildren are to have realistic hope for the future, something needs to change.
State government’s role in economic progress is more limited than some politicians would have us believe. Their opportunity is restricted, for the most part, to keeping taxes on job creators as low as possible and cutting burdensome regulations.
West Virginia legislators and Justice need to keep up the good, if limited work, they have done in that regard.