West Virginia saw another month of relatively slow job growth as the state and the nation continue to struggle with COVID-19’s economic impact.
According to Workforce WV, total nonfarm employment increased by 5,500 jobs in August, including 2,200 private sector jobs. While the economy is still adding jobs, the pace of the recovery has slowed significantly in the past two months. West Virginia has added 9,500 private sector jobs in July and August, less than a quarter of the 41,400 jobs added in May and June. As of August, West Virginia is still down 37,000 total nonfarm jobs, and 33,900 private sector jobs, compared to February.
West Virginia’s labor force statistics showed more workers joining the labor force to look for work in August compared to July, as well as a decline in the state’s unemployment rate to 8.9 percent. However, West Virginia’s labor force is still 34,900 workers below its level in February. A more complete, realistic unemployment rate would take into account those who have left and not returned to the labor force since February. Including those workers, West Virginia’s unemployment rate in August would be 12.8 percent, more than twice its February rate.
With job growth slowing and the state still in a deep hole, West Virginia continues to receive significant numbers of new unemployment claims – 1,741 new claims the week ending September 12, which is still three times higher than was typical before COVID-19 hit. West Virginia had 49,662 continued claims for the week ending September 5, still higher than the peak of the Great Recession. And notably, the 49,662 claims do not include extended and PUA claims.
During this time of widespread hardship and job loss, federal aid has been critical in keeping families afloat and boosting the economy. An estimated 13 million more Americans would be in poverty without the expanded unemployment benefits of $600 per week and the stimulus payments provided under the CARES Act, according to analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
However, the $600 boost to unemployment benefits expired in July, and the funding for extra $400 in supplemental unemployment benefits from the Lost Wages Assistance program has already been exhausted. Meanwhile, food and housing security is rising, tax revenues are stagnating, and the end of the CARES Act stimulus is threatening a fragile recovery.
It is more important than ever that Congress passes a strong aid package that measures up to the scale of the crisis.
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