Blog Posts > New Report Looks at the State of West Virginia’s Unemployed and Those Outside the Workforce
September 27, 2023

New Report Looks at the State of West Virginia’s Unemployed and Those Outside the Workforce

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 In the 21st century labor market, the program’s outdated eligibility requirements in many states exclude people such as unemployed workers looking for part-time work and those who leave work for compelling family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.

Key Findings

  • On average, unemployed workers are younger and less educated than employed workers.
  • Unemployed workers are more likely to be men than women. Men face higher unemployment rates than women.
  • Black West Virginians face higher unemployment rates than white West Virginians. West Virginians of two or more races face the highest unemployment rates.
  • Over half of unemployed West Virginians are either laid off or new entrants to the workforce.
  • 96 percent of those not in the labor force are retired, disabled, in school, or taking care of home. Only 4.2 percent are not in the labor force for some other reason.
  • Weekly unemployment benefits in West Virginia are below the national average.
  • With a balance of $423 million, West Virginia’s unemployment trust fund is healthy and at an historic high.
  • The unemployment insurance system has failed to adapt to a changing economy, leaving out gig workers, independent contractors, the self-employed, and other workers that are growing more prevalent in the 21st century.
  • Many of the federal government’s temporary pandemic reforms to the unemployment system addressed many of its shortcomings and helped lead to a fast economic recovery.
  • Permanently enacting some of those reforms and avoiding proposed damaging reforms would strengthen both the unemployment insurance system and the state’s economy.

“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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