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West Virginia unemployment figures for September came with the usual fanfare and sl – as officials were thrilled to announce that unemployment was 4.6% – below the national average and the lowest level in Mountain state in 14 years.

Wonderful. Certainly, efforts to reopen our economies and help businesses get back on their feet amid a pandemic have to do with that percentage.

“West Virginia is moving in the right direction when it comes to empowering employers and making sure we have good workers and well-paying jobs.” said Scott Adkins, acting commissioner for WorkForce West Virginia.

Possibly. But there are worrying numbers that all the turmoil obscures. The state’s activity rate is still the lowest in the country – a pitiful 55.2% in August. That means that 44.8% of the working-age population in our state … doesn’t.

Traditional explanations for low participation rates include those who have given up looking for work and aging workers. West Virginia has a lot of both. In the meantime, we cannot ignore the reality that private employers, who have found they can do their jobs with fewer workers, are not interested in increasing the number of jobs available in the state anytime soon. Those jobs are probably gone forever. Knowing this, we have to bear in mind that some of our workforce has moved elsewhere in recent years.

We are not going to get these people back or attract new workers without a major change in attitudes from the elected officials, who believe that the best way to stay in office is to look at our economic past and the fear and the worst instincts to  -peal to just enough voters to win the race.

Yes, September unemployment is good news. But to pretend that the massive challenges facing our country’s economy have been resolved is a mistake. We still have a lot to do.

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