Officials: W.Va. Unemployment Rate Highlights Need for Economic Diversity

Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram - With West Virginia recording the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. in June at 7.4 percent, the state is feeling the effects of a lack of economic diversity, according to officials. Read

Since June of last year, the state has seen major job losses in extractive industries (2,900), construction (4,300) and leisure and hospitality (2,200), according to WorkForce West Virginia data released this month.

Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary for the state Department of Commerce and head of the West Virginia Development Office, pointed to the struggles of the coal industry in recent years and the current stagnation in natural gas prices as key contributors to a state unemployment rate that has risen by 1.5 percent since January.

"We'll start with the obvious: We're not happy. But we kind of understand the trends, and we understand what's causing them. Some of those things are a little outside our control," Burdette said. "Obviously, the big shift has been the impact created by the dramatic tumble in the coal industry and the flat position of the natural gas industry. Those are two huge economic drivers for us, and they've created a ripple effect throughout the economy in West Virginia.

"There was a day a month ago, I think, in which we lost 1,100 miners' jobs in one day," he continued. "These are good-paying jobs, and those folks buy cars. And they go to the movies, and they go to restaurants, and when they don't have a job, they don't do those things as much."

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget Policy, said the layoffs in the coal industry only account for part of the state's economic struggles, with West Virginia seeing declines or only modest gains in other key sectors over the past year.

"It's not just about coal," Boettner said. "It's about us performing relatively poorly in other sectors, especially manufacturing, construction and leisure and hospitality."

Boettner noted that while other states appear to be recovering from the recession (the national unemployment rate for June was 5.3 percent), West Virginia appears to be headed in the opposite direction.


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