WorkForce WV: State unemployment rate drops as leisure, hospitality jobs rebound | News

State unemployment rates continued to slowly drop in May, falling from 5.8% in April to 5.5%, data from WorkForce West Virginia shows.

For the month, employment increased by about 800, to 750,900, while the unemployment rolls dropped by about 2,300, to 43,600.

That still leaves the state with about 16,000 fewer jobs than it had in February 2020, the last month before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. There were also about 6,000 more West Virginians unemployed in May than in February 2020.

Gov. Jim Justice cited the falling unemployment rate during the state COVID-19 briefing Tuesday.

“We still have 43,600 people in West Virginia that are still unemployed,” Justice said. “We want to continue to whittle on that number and continue to see unemployment dropping.”

Justice is one of 25 GOP governors cutting off enhanced federal unemployment benefits before a scheduled Sept. 4 expiration date on the pretense that small businesses, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality industries, are having difficulty filling job openings.

Effective Saturday, thousands of unemployed West Virginians will lose the extra $300 a week benefit, and independent contractors and gig workers, who were receiving $300 a week benefits, will be cut off entirely.

According to WorkForce West Virginia, the leisure and hospitality category saw the highest jump in employment in May, at 1.8%, adding about 1,800 jobs during the month.

Similarly, the arts, entertainment and recreation jobs category saw a 1.0% increase in May, while accommodation and food service increased by 0.8%.

Professional and business services also increased by 1.0% in May, adding about 1,000 jobs.

Those increases offset job losses for the month in the categories of mining and timber, construction, and manufacturing, which accounted for a total of about 600 jobs lost during May.

Justice announced on May 14 that he would cut off the enhanced unemployment benefits provided as part of the American Rescue Act on June 19, taking as much as $150 million of federal funding out of the state economy, contending that “a lot, lot, lot of folks are scamming the system.”

Justice later conceded the cutoff will hurt some “vulnerable folks” who have not been able to find work during the pandemic, but has not wavered on his decision to cut off the benefits.

“Wages trump unemployment dollars. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said during a May 19 briefing. “At the end of the day, we want people working.”

Since May, Justice has proposed using federal pandemic recovery funds to provide what he has called “signing bonuses,” or cash payments to unemployed residents who return to work and stay on the job for a designated amount of time. He said Tuesday that proposal still remains in the planning stages.

Justice initially proposed the state would provide a $500 bonus, to be matched by the employer, but backed off that plan saying he didn’t want to put “additional pain on our small businesses.”