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Employment: Policymakers must tackle real problems

West Virginians got some good news this week, when WorkForce West Virginia released data showing the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 4.3 percent in October. That is lower than the national average of 4.6 percent; and the lowest West Virginia has seen since April-June 2008.

In fact, “since October 2020, total nonfarm payroll employment has increased by 18,300,” according to WorkForce West Virginia spokesman Andy Malinoski.

But before we all start singing “Happy Days Are Here Again,” there was a telling tidbit in the state’s announcement. The state’s percentage of residents in the workforce is the worst in the country. Seasonally adjusted labor force participation still sits at an abysmal 55.2 percent, according to the Federal Reserve’s data.

That means that of the potential workforce in West Virginia, a nearly unfathomable 44.8 percent are not working or seeking work. That rate is unchanged from September, by the way.

Something is still broken. Policymakers who hope we will focus on what looks like a stellar unemployment rate still have a problem on their hands, and must not ignore that in a state where we brag about our hard-working and proud workforce, something is keeping 44.8 percent of those people off the job.

Surely an honest assessment of those reasons and a search for solutions is under way. A low unemployment rate is fantastic. But we still have work to do.

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