CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped down below 6 percent for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.

According to WorkForce West Virginia, the state’s unemployment rate for March was 5.9 percent. West Virginia’s March unemployment rate was just slightly better than the U.S. unemployment rate of 6 percent in March.

That’s two-thirds of a percentage point higher than March 2020 unemployment rate of 5.3 percent, right when the state’s economy was shut down to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but nearly 10 percent less the April 2020 unemployment rate of 15.6 – the peak unemployment rate during the pandemic.

“The number of unemployed state residents decreased by 2,400 to 47,300,” WorkForce West Virginia stated in a press release Tuesday. “Total employment was up 2,000 over the month … Total nonfarm payroll employment increased 1,700 in March.”

West Virginia saw an increase of jobs in the good-producing sector, with mining and logging jobs increasing by 200, manufacturing jobs increasing by 200, and construction jobs increasing by 100.

The state’s service-providing industry also saw a comeback, with leisure/hospitality jobs increasing by 1,000, trade/transportation/utility jobs increasing by 800, education and health services jobs increasing by 500, financial activities jobs increasing by 300, professional and business services jobs increasing by 300, and information jobs increasing by 100. The only industry that saw a decrease in employment was the public sector, with a decline of 1,300 jobs in government, as well as a job loss of 500 in other services.

The state’s unemployment rate has recovered quickly since March and April when the economy was shut down and people were ordered to stay at home in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Department of Health and Human Resources reported the state’s first positive coronavirus case on March 17, 2020, resulting in all restaurants and bars closing except for carry-out or drive-thru followed by additional closures by executive order.

Seven days later, Justice issued a stay-at-home order that limited nonessential travel except for medical needs, groceries and supplies and travel to work. Nonessential businesses were either closed, or employees had to work from home when possible. By the end of April 2020, the stay-at-home order was lifted. According to the WorkForce West Virginia report, total nonfarm payroll employment decreased by 32,700 since March 2020.

Businesses and services were allowed to reopen in phases and with restrictions to limit spread of COVID-19, such as limits on capacity, additional cleaning requirements and the wearing of masks or face coverings. Since May, the unemployment rate has improved steadily.

With unemployment programs strained last spring, the federal government offered unemployment benefits tailored to the pandemic. The C.A.R.E.S. Act last March created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for self-employed workers and the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. That program was extended with the passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, paying out $300 per week for those on unemployment through Labor Day.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at [email protected]




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