The number of Hampshire County residents either working or seeking jobs has topped 11,000 for the 1st time in history.
Workforce West Virginia estimated the county’s labor pool at 11,080 for both June and July, its latest data release shows.
Of those 11,080 people, 10,660 were working July and 420 were unemployed, giving the county a jobless rate of 3.8 percent.
That was among the 10 best counties in the state. Jackson County had the lowest unemployment rate, 2.9 percent, followed by Jefferson (3.1)
A year ago Hampshire’s employment numbers showed a labor pool of 10,710 with 10,270 working and 440 looking for a job.
Hampshire’s surging workforce correlates with employment improvements at the state and national level.
West Virginia is seeing an increase in the number of people working or trying to work, although its workforce participation rate remains the lowest in the nation.
In 2018, West Virginia’s labor force participation rate was 54.8 percent. That’s the percentage of people in the working-age population who either have jobs or are looking for one.
The rest are either unable to work or not looking to work.
The state’s 2018 rate of 54.8 is the 3rd year in a row the number has improved. It was 53.3 percent in 2017, 53.1 percent in 2016 and 52.8 percent in 2015.
The national rate is 63 percent.
“It just doesn’t look all that good for West Virginia,” Brian Lego, economic forecaster with West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told WVMetroNews on Labor Day. “It’s not only older but it’s also less healthy so you’ll have less participation.”
Lego said the opioid crisis is cutting into the state’s potential labor force just as companies are looking for more workers. A resurgence in coal and expanded natural gas exploration are driving jobs in the western part of the state.
Closer to home, Proctor and Gamble has built a factory in Martinsburg that is searching for workers.
Workers are in short supply across the United States. Nine months ago the U.S. Department of Labor calculated that 6.5 million Americans were unemployed, but firms at 7.5 million vacant jobs.
The situation hasn’t improved during 2019.
Economists have long considered a 5-percent jobless rate to be full employment. In July, Hampshire’s rate was 3.8 percent, West Virginia’s was 4.6 percent and the nation’s was 3.7 percent. o