West Virginia has recovered roughly two-thirds of the 93,900 jobs it lost in March and April as the economy was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As previous posts have shown, most of those gains occurred in May and June, with job growth slowing significantly in July and August.
But as the jobs recovery as a whole has slowed down, for some workers, it hasn’t occurred at all. Jobs for West Virginia’s highest wage earners have fully returned, but only half of the jobs lost this spring have returned for those making less than $27,000 per year.
The pandemic’s accompanying recession hit low wage workers — as well as women, young, and Black workers — the hardest, and now our recovery is widening the gap between the rich and the poor.
This disproportionate impact reflects longstanding inequities in education, employment, housing, and health care that the current crisis is exacerbating. Because people of color, particularly women of color, are overrepresented in low-wage jobs, they are more likely to have lost jobs and income due to the pandemic. They are also more likely to have worked in a front-line, essential occupation and risked exposure to COVID-19 and its potentially devastating health consequences, and now are more likely to be waiting for their job to return.
It is clear that the state’s most vulnerable are being left behind in the state’s recovery. What’s more, most of the CARES Act’s provisions to help the unemployed have expired, leaving our communities without the support they need. And yet, Congress still has not passed another relief bill.
The state’s economic recovery has been meager so far, and has left out those most affected by the downturn. With over 50,000 workers still unemployed in West Virginia, and now receiving greatly reduced unemployment insurance benefits, a weak recovery could easily become another downturn without sufficient federal response.