Ted pointed out that West Virginia’s employment level is at its lowest point in 14 years. A closer look shows that West Virginia’s employment situation has been pretty bad for decades. One measure of how well a state or region provides employment is the employment-to-population ratio or employment rate. This ratio is the number of persons employed divided by the total working age population (16 years old and older). Whereas the unemployment rate uses only those actively searching for employment, the employment-to-population ratio, also called the employment rate, includes everyone of working age regardless of their employment status. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia has had the lowest employment to population ratio of all states for 34 consecutive years!
Currently only about 48.6 percent of West Virginia’s working age population is employed, compared to 58.6 percent for the U.S. overall. And as the chart shows, the ratio has been in a nose-dive since the recession began, for both West Virginia and the rest of the country.
And while the recession hasn’t help West Virginia’s employment situation, it wasn’t that great to begin with. For starters, West Virginia relies on declining and weakening employment sectors, with little economic diversity. 22.5 percent of West Virginia’s population between 21 and 64 is disabled, the highest rate in the country, a byproduct of an unhealthy population and the dangers of the mining industry. West Virginia also has second oldest population in the country, and as the population ages, the workforce shrinks.
The recession has only exacerbated West Virginia’s already troubled labor market. Going forward, West Virginia must be able to diversify its economy, educate and retain its population, and invest in making itself an attractive place to both live and work.
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