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State’s economy is slowly recovering

50K who lost jobs due to pandemic working

West Virginia’s economy is continuing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is still a ways to go, said John Deskins, director of WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Deskins, one of the featured speakers at the Morgantown Area Partnership’s economic forum webinar Wednesday, said the state lost 94,000 jobs – or 13% of its overall workforce – during the first couple of months of the pandemic and 39,000 of those lost jobs in the state were in the leisure and hospitality industry. Also, coal production in the state is down 30% since January.

But there is good news. Since many businesses have re-opened, 50,000 jobs in the state have recovered and the jobless rate has fallen.

“We’re more than halfway recovered,” said Deskins, who was joined in Wednesday’s webinar by Tom Barkin, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va.

“But, the problem was a virus that came out of nowhere,” said Deskins, adding the state’s jobless rate is just under 10%, down from a pandemic high of 16%.

“I am fairly optimistic.”

Barkin said the path of the national economy’s recovery is hard to predict because of the virus. In normal times, he said, people save anywhere from 7 to 8% of their earnings. Now, it’s 26%.

“The Fed is doing a lot to support the economy,” Barkin said. “And we’re not even thinking about raising rates.”

“We have to get our fiscal house in order.”

The stock market has done well during the economic downturn and is hovering around all-time highs. Barkin said much of the market’s strong performance is because large companies such as Facebook, Amazon and Google, have done well since the pandemic hit earlier this year.

The demand for new housing remains strong, which has boosted the national residential construction market, he said. Commercial construction is still strong, but the backlog of work is beginning to wind down. And the inflation rate is 1.4%, he said.

“To get the economy working, we need people working,” said Barkin, adding job retraining is important. “A lot of employers, strangely, can’t find employees.”

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