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In 2023, West Virginia’s unemployment rate fell as low as 3.3% for three months. Before Justice’s tenure, the state’s record low was 4.4%. It has been below that level since November 2021, all under Justice.
Governors cannot claim full credit for economic achievements on their watch, because many factors beyond their control shape the economy.
Since the pandemic, West Virginia’s unemployment rate has closely tracked that of the nation as a whole.
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As he looks back on two terms as West Virginia governor and looks ahead to running for a Senate seat, Republican Jim Justice is touting the state’s economic record on his watch.
In an Aug. 24 post on his personal account on X, formerly Twitter, Justice wrote, "As your Governor, we pulled the rope together and achieved record low unemployment, thousands of new jobs, and the BIGGEST tax cut in state history. As our next U.S. Senator, I'll be a strong conservative in Washington and deliver big results for West Virginia."
Attached to the post was an image headlined, "Under Jim Justice, West Virginia achieves the lowest unemployment rate in state history."
Did the state achieve record-low unemployment under Justice, who was elected in November 2016 and took office in January 2017? We found that he’s correct on the numbers, although it’s unclear how much Justice’s policies had to do with that achievement.
Data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, which has kept state-by-state unemployment data since 1976, shows that West Virginia’s unemployment rate fell to 3.3% in April, May and June 2023.
That was lower than any month before Justice took office; the pre-Justice low was 4.4% in April, May and June 2008. West Virginia beat that record for the first time in November 2021 and the rate has remained lower ever since.
West Virginia’s unemployment rate has climbed in the two most recent months, but only incrementally. The rate was 3.4% in July 2023 and 3.6% in August 2023.
So, Justice is correct numerically. However, political chief executives cannot claim full credit for economic statistics recorded on their watches.
We’ve long noted that although presidents can influence economic performance, they are not omnipotent. Factors that contribute to unemployment are complex, including international events such as oil price spikes, technological changes and broader workplace trends. That caveat about ascribing credit is also true for governors.
Unemployment rate patterns show a close correlation between West Virginia’s and the nation’s statistics, especially since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Justice would be on safer ground touting that the state has narrowed West Virginia’s unemployment rate gap with the nation’s on his watch.
Between Justice’s inauguration as governor and the pandemic’s onset, West Virginia’s unemployment rate averaged 5.1%, compared with 4.0% for the nation as a whole. That’s more than one-fourth higher than the national rate.
But since January 2021, West Virginia and the nation as a whole have essentially seen equal unemployment rates, each averaging 4.3%.
Justice said that on his watch, West Virginia had "the lowest unemployment rate in state history."
From April to June 2023, West Virginia’s unemployment rate fell as low as 3.3%. Before Justice’s tenure, the state’s record low was 4.4%. The state unemployment rate has been below 4.4% since November 2021.
However, governors cannot claim full credit for economic achievements on their watches, because many factors beyond their control shape the economy. Since the pandemic, West Virginia’s unemployment rate has closely tracked the nation’s rate.
The statement is accurate but needs additional context, so we rate it Mostly True.
Jim Justice, post on X, Aug. 24, 2023
National Governors Association, Jim Justice, accessed Aug. 24, 2023
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, "unemployment rate in West Virginia," accessed Aug. 24, 2023
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, "unemployment rate" (national), accessed Aug. 24, 2023
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