West Virginia jobless rate falls to 12.9% amid reopenings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s unemployment rate fell to 12.9% last month, buoyed by business reopenings during the coronavirus pandemic, according to figures released Tuesday.

The state’s jobless rate dropped 2.1 percentage points in May as nonfarm employment rose 13,300 and a wave of businesses got the go-ahead from Gov. Jim Justice to resume operations.

WorkForce West Virginia said the number of unemployed state residents fell by 23,400 in May, but the overall number remained high at 100,400.

More than 250,000 unemployment claims have been processed in West Virginia since the pandemic forced widespread shutdowns in March. Nationwide, about 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for benefits in the first week of June alone.

West Virginia added 8,800 jobs last month in leisure and hospitality, which includes restaurants, hotels, casinos, amusement parks, museums and other industries.

The most aggressive phase of Gov. Jim Justice’s coronavirus reopening strategy occurred in late May. It included restaurants, malls, big box stores, tanning salons, whitewater rafting and zipline businesses, and the Hatfield-McCoy ATV trail system. Campgrounds also reopened for in-state residents.

That was followed by cabins, lodges, bars at half-capacity, museums and zoos on May 26. Swimming pools, bowling alleys, pools halls, spa and limited video lottery retailers resumed May 30.

Casinos and movie theaters reopened June 5. Sporting events with spectators will be allowed later this month and fairs can resume July 1.

Other significant state job additions last month were 2,400 in construction, 1,900 in trade, transportation and utilities, and 1,700 in manufacturing. Partially offsetting that was a drop of 2,900 government jobs.

The state has consistently met the goal Justice set for reopening by keeping the positive coronavirus test rate under 3% for three consecutive days. The current rate is under 2%. Justice had loosened a previous goal of having the number of cases decline for 14 days.

Statewide, at least 88 people have died from the virus and about 2,300 have tested positive, according to state health data.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.