Employment numbers continued to improve in April, as 3,200 West Virginians went back to work, according to unemployment data released by WorkForce West Virginia.
In April, the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.8%, as total nonfarm employment increased 3,200. Of those new jobs, 1,700 were in the service-providing sector and 1,500 were in the goods-producing sector, according to WorkForce West Virginia and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
More than 750,000 West Virginians were employed in April.
April marked the fourth consecutive month of jobs growth, as the state unemployment rate has dropped each month since December, when it was 8.3%.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment peaked in April 2020, when 119,500 West Virginians were unemployed. Since then, more than 101,000 West Virginians have found work, as total unemployment has dropped to 45,800, according to the data.
West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts praised the report, saying it shows that “West Virginia’s economy is roaring back from the pandemic.”
“April 2020 was the first month that the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects showed up in employment data, so while April 2021 is fantastic compared to April 2020, it’s important to compare this month to April 2019,” Roberts said in a statement. “2019 was the year that West Virginia was approaching record employment levels, so returning to 2019 levels of employment has been a key in our recovery. As it stands now, we have almost accomplished that.”
April 2021 employment is within 6,000 of April 2019 levels, when 755,900 West Virginians were employed, with an unemployment rate of 4.8%.
Since December 2020, more than 24,000 West Virginians have joined the employment rolls, while unemployment has dropped by more than 20,000.
Since April 2020, total nonfarm payroll employment has increased by 67,600, according to WorkForce.
Employment increases included 27,500 in leisure and hospitality; 11,700 in trade, transportation and utilities; 7,800 in education and health services; 4,100 in professional and business services; 4,000 in construction; 3,600 in government; 3,200 in other services; 3,100 in mining and logging; 2,000 in manufacturing; 500 in financial activities; and 100 in information.
The data seems to contradict Gov. Jim Justice’s claim that “a lot, lot, lot of folks are scamming the system” by choosing to remain unemployed so they can receive $300 weekly federal supplemental unemployment benefits.
Justice announced May 14 that the state will cut off the federal supplemental payments effective June 19, blocking the $300 weekly payments to about 42,000 West Virginians from either the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation or the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which helps self-employed and independent contractors.
That works out to a loss of $12.6 million a week in federal funds, potentially costing the state $150 million or more, had the programs been allowed to continue through Sept. 6, when they were set to expire.
The extension of pandemic benefits was approved by Congress with passage of the American Rescue Plan Act.
“If you’re just taking advantage of this program, I think that time is over,” Justice said in announcing the cutoff of benefits. “West Virginians have access to thousands of jobs right now. We want everybody back to work.”
Justice is one of 21 Republicans to announce plans to cut off the federal benefits early. Justice and the other GOP governors said they are acting on claims of employers being unable to fill job vacancies because the supplemental benefits presents a disincentive to work.
Justice said Monday he intends to proceed with plans to cut off the benefits June 19, even though WorkForce West Virginia is reinstating work-search requirements for those receiving unemployment benefits, effective June 1. The requirement to actively seek out employment each week and to accept a suitable offer of employment was suspended at the height of the pandemic.