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Senate Workforce Committee hears update on labor force participation

West Virginia Press Association Staff Report

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Senate Workforce Committee, on Friday, heard a presentation from Workforce West Virginia Executive Director Jeffrey Green, regarding the current labor market. 

Prior to the start of Green’s presentation, committee members advanced SB 493. Sponsored by Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio, SB 493 seeks to permit the use of a prior criminal conviction as a disqualifying factor for the practice of certain professions. 

As explained by Senate Counsel Mindy Parsley, “The bill authorizes the use of criminal records as disqualification of authorization to practice a profession, or occupation, by a board, authority, or other agency authorized to issue licenses, certifications, registrations, or other authorizations to engage in a particular profession or occupation.”

“The bill allows for the disqualification because the applicant’s prior criminal conviction directly and specifically relates to the activity requiring licensure,” Parsley added. “The bill also provides for the use of evidence of any rehabilitation, or treatment undertaken by the individual applicant.”

According to Parsley, an applicant would not be required to disclose an arrest or conviction for a non-violent misdemeanor, nor would a non-violent misdemeanor be used to determine licensure. 

After its adoption by the Workforce Committee, SB 493 will now be referred to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee for further consideration. 

Next before the committee was Jeffrey Green. 

“The good news,” Green began, “Is that our labor force participation rate is up. This is probably – as of the last quarter or so of 2023 – this is the highest that the labor force participation rate has been since the 1990’s. I think we were 56% in the 1990’s at that time.”

Despite the high participation rate, Green noted that “the labor force is still down a little bit from pre-COVID levels.” 

According to Green, approximately 10,000 less people are actively working or seeking work since prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 peak was “just a little over 800,000” people working or actively seeking work. Currently, that number is “down to about 790,000, but it is trending upward.”

“The unemployment rate is inching upward,” Green added. “We’re seeing more claims coming in. We think that the job market is cooling a little bit more.”

Green explained that the job market is cooling in part because the economy as a whole is cooling.

“Coming into the winter season, a lot of the seasonality will kick in,” Green said. “A lot of the outdoor type of jobs are cooled off for the season – construction and whatnot.”

Green further noted that some of the largest age-group gaps in labor force participation rates come from the 25 to 64 age-range. 

“When we say West Virginia has a low labor force participation rate, it’s important to realize that a lot of what’s driving that down are regional situations,” Green explained. “The smaller economies, particularly in the southwestern part of the state, are struggling more so than the rest of the state. You’ll notice that as you go north and east, particularly around Morgantown or the panhandle-area, we’re doing pretty well with labor force participation.”

“In those regions, we actually have about six counties that are higher than the national labor force participation rate,” Green added. “But we have some counties in the center and southern part of the state that are struggling.”

At the conclusion of Green’s presentation, Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, asked for additional clarification regarding labor force participation rates.

“With all the construction going on in West Virginia, especially up the Ohio River,  it seems like our job rates should be skyrocketing,” Smith said. “If someone comes from Ohio or Pennsylvania to work, they’re not included in this – it’s just West Virginia residents, correct?”

After Green confirmed that Smith’s assumption was correct, Smith asked, “Would that be the reason that we’re not seeing the big spike?”

“It could explain some of it, yes,” Green replied. “Back when we had a lot of gas pipelines, we had a lot of companies that had come from outside of West Virginia to spearhead a lot of that construction. So it’s kind of the same situation – those people are reported as employees from the state their employer is located in.” 

The next meeting of the Senate Workforce Committee has not yet been scheduled. 

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