COMP NEWS – While unemployment levels have begun to stabilize, a new issue is taking president: low labor participation rates.

The September unemployment rate is at a seasonally adjusted rate of 4.6 percent, down from around 16 percent at the height of the pandemic shutdown.


On WAJR’s Talk of the Town, Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU John Deskins, the real problem is the labor participation rate. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the labor participation rate for the same period was 55.2 percent, nearly last in the nation.

This low participation rate is causing issues, as companies looking to expand need areas with high availability of labor. The lack of labor availability disincentivizes industry growth and expansion.

Economists agree a major consideration for companies considering expansion or relocation is an available and prepared labor force. Roads and facilities can be improved or built, but labor issues can be much more complicated to solve or manage.

Now, the real questions are, what are the main drivers and how can this be remedied?

Three main drivers in the low participation rate are education, health and drug addiction. Health and drug addiction issues are deeply rooted and in some cases generational problems that are very difficult to address.


“If you look at overall mortality, West Virginia is dead last among the states,” Deskins said,” If you look at cancer, diabetes, obesity, smoking, lack of exercise West Virginia is somewhere between 45th and 50th.”


Of those three factors, education and training could be one of the easiest to solve but the hardest to measure in the 55.2 percent participation rate.


“They know if they go out and start looking for a job they’re probably not going to get hired because of that deficit in their education of training,” Deskins said,” So, they’re not even engaged in the workforce, to begin with, they’re not even looking for work in the first place.”

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