While, as a state, West Virginia has fully recovered all jobs lost during the pandemic, that job recovery has not been felt evenly across all counties. Recent economic development announcements have been limited to a handful of counties, mostly on the state’s border. As of November 2023, 18 counties are still below their pre-pandemic jobs levels. Efforts to cut unemployment insurance based on a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would harm residents in those counties that have not fully bounced back. Read more about West Virginia’s uneven recovery in Sean’s new fact sheet here.
During the first months of the pandemic, West Virginia experienced a sharp decline in jobs, with total nonfarm employment falling from 756,806 in January 2020 to 642,446 in April 2020. Thanks to a strong federal response, including stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, and supports for businesses and workers, the state slowly gained back the jobs lost, with total employment reaching 758,168 in November of 2023, a gain of 1,362 (Figure 1). However, there is great variation across the state, with most of the employment growth occurring in a handful of counties, while 18 counties are still below their pre-pandemic employment numbers.
A 2023 West Virginia House bill would have cut the number of weeks workers are eligible for unemployment from the current level of 26 weeks to as few as 12 weeks. Calculated using a practice known as “indexing,” the number of weeks available would have begun to vary based on the statewide average unemployment rate.
At the county level, cutting weeks of unemployment eligibility would create significant hardship for workers in areas of the state that have yet to fully recover from the pandemic. For example, while statewide employment growth totaled 1,362 from January 2020 to November 2023, county employment growth ranged from a loss of 2,182 in Kanawha County to a gain of 1,298 in Cabell County. Eighteen counties are still experiencing the impact of the pandemic, with less employment in November 2023 than in January 2020. On the other end of the spectrum, three counties, Cabell, Hampshire, and Jefferson have each experienced employment gains of over 1,000 compared to their pre-pandemic levels (Figure 2). This means that just two counties account for more than double the state’s net employment growth. With so much of the state’s recent job growth driven by just a few counties, workers across the state are experiencing vastly different job markets. In counties still struggling to recover from the pandemic, indexing unemployment rates to a statewide average would be especially harmful.
Read the full fact sheet here.
 West Virginia Legislature, 2023 Session, HB 2588.