For Immediate Release: September 27, 2023
Contact: Kelly Allen, 304-612-4180
Charleston, WV – Each year the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy releases its annual State of Working West Virginia report, which examines West Virginia’s economy through the lens of its workers— the people who power our state and our economy. While each year’s report has a slightly different focus, one consistent theme is the need to ask this simple question: what about the people who do the work? This year’s report is an in-depth look at one specific measure- West Virginia’s unemployment rate and those who are unemployed.
“For years, policymakers have incorrectly conflated unemployment insurance policy with labor force participation rate issues. But the issues the unemployed face are different than the ones faced by those outside of the labor force. Cutting unemployment insurance benefits will not do anything to improve our labor force participation rate or increase jobs. Instead, lawmakers should address the barriers that the unemployed face and ensure that more people can access these benefits that keep them tied to the labor force.” -Sean O’Leary, report author and senior policy analyst.
The report also features a deep dive into the state’s unemployment insurance system, its benefits to workers, and the unemployment insurance trust fund. While the state’s unemployment trust fund remains at historically high levels, most unemployed workers do not receive unemployment insurance benefits.
In July 2023, there were 26,500 unemployment workers in the state, but only 6,762 workers collecting unemployment benefits. With low recipiency rates, it is clear that the unemployment insurance system has significant shortcomings. When the unemployment insurance system was designed, the typical job loser was a married male breadwinner laid off from a full-time job to which he could expect to return when business picked up. In the 21st century labor market, the program’s outdated eligibility requirements in many states exclude people such as unemployed workers looking for part-time work and those who leave work for compelling family reasons, like caring for an ill family member.
“Those who find themselves unemployed already have significant incentives to find work. Policymakers can improve the unemployment insurance system by making sure more workers can access it and increasing benefits to pay a higher rate of lost income- thus keeping more West Virginians attached to the workforce and able to find a job that is a good fit for their skills. – Sean O’Leary.
You can read the full report here.
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