We are all painfully aware of the stagnation that our economy has been in since late 2007 and, according to the forecasts of the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics, while the economy is predicted to hit bottom this year their forecasts do not call for substantial recovery anytime soon.
As I've said before, statistics are normally boring especially when they aren't what we're looking and hoping for but here are some of the latest facts reported by Dr. George W. Hammond, Associate Director of the university's Bureau of Business and Economic Research on just how bad things were (and still are) at the depth of the recession, if in fact, we have yet seen the bottom. (Statistics for some job sectors are for the period of mid-2008 to and including mid-2009.) Next week we'll look at the department's predictions for the future.
The state lost 22,600 jobs from the second quarter of 2008 to the same quarter of 2009, which translates into a job loss rate of 3.0 percent. Real personal income growth slowed during the first half of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008 but did remain positive, albeit by a very small margin.
West Virginia was not alone in the downturn but did not suffer as severely as the nation as a whole. Overall, the state has weathered the recession, so far at least, a little better than the national economy. The state had not seen job losses in the 3.0 percent range since the early 1980s. State employment is back to levels last seen in 2004.
Job losses in West Virginia during the past year have been widely distributed across industries. "Indeed," Hammond said, "losses were similar for the goods-producing and service-providing sectors."
Within the goods-producing sector, manufacturing posted the largest job losses, with those declines concentrated in the durable manufacturing sector - especially primary metals. This reflects the huge drop in demand caused by the national - and global - downturn. Construction jobs, as everyone knows, are still down significantly from year-ago levels which reflects the housing correction in the state. Natural resources and mining jobs are also down during the past four quarters, which reflects declining demand for energy and steel that results in less demand for coal and natural gas.
Coal production has fallen precipitously during the past four quarters. Current estimates put coal production at about 140 million tons in the second quarter of 2009, roughly 13 percent below that of the same period last year. Additionally, spot coal prices for Central and Northern Appalachian coal went down from the $145/ton range during the summer of 2008 to the $45/ton range during the summer of 2009. Natural gas prices are also well down from year-ago levels. Weakening demand for coal also hit the value of coal exports, which were down 23 percent in the second quarter of 2009 compared to year-ago levels.
The state also posted large losses in the service-providing sector. The largest losses were in retail trade, which reflects the retrenchment of the consumer both nationally and in the state. Professional and business services, leisure and hospitality and financial activities also posted significant job losses during the past year.
Education, health care and government employment were both above year-ago levels in the second quarter of 2009. Health care job growth during the recession reflects the fact that this sector tends to be less sensitive, but not immune, to business cycle trends that many other sectors experience. (While the health care industry may have seen some employment growth state-wide, we learned from an article published recently in The Inter-Mountain that our local health care facility, Davis Memorial Hospital, saw a dramatic decline in revenue in 2008 and 2009.)
As mentioned earlier, these statistics come from the BBER's study of the period from early- to mid-2008 to and including (in some cases) the last quarter of 2009. We are beginning to see some indications that a recovery may be underway. Reports in some of the nations leading newspapers are reporting encouraging signs of growth in the national economy; however, most of these data are reported for and at the national level. While West Virginia's economic fortunes are influenced by the national economy, it has its own unique characteristics and, as can be seen, varies dramatically in some areas from the national level.
If you haven't already made plans to attend the special show at the American Mountain Theater tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. may I suggest you make every effort to do so. This production is for the special purpose of raising money to cover Matt Scott's hospital expenses. Matt operates the theater's sound and lights during the theater's regular productions.
Matt was recently diagnosed as having and was operated on for cancer. Like most young people who believe themselves to be in good health, Matt did not feel he needed health insurance at such a young age.
A very special group of talented musicians have been assembled for this special performance including the regular AMT cast, Hardly Ever featuring Bluegrass, gospel by the Sexton Trio and The Shaffers and Frank Fusion along with Marshall Scott on trumpet will feature rock, jazz, fusion and more.
If you can't attend the concert but would like to contribute to Matt's need, you can help by making a monetary donation. If you choose to do so, make your check to BREATHE Ministries, and mail it to 49 Martin Street, Elkins, W.Va. 26241. Indicate "Matt Scott" on the memo line of the check.
The Allegheny All Nighter's, the Relay for Life fundraising team from Allegheny Insurance Services, will be hosting their annual chicken barbecue May 22 to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The barbecue will be on Railroad Avenue between the Holiday Inn Express and Go-Mart. Those in charge of the event said that dinners should be ready around 11 a.m. - or maybe a little before. For only $6 you can feast on half a chicken, accompanied by a roll, baked potato, dessert and soft drink. Stop by, have lunch and help a most worthy cause - the ACS.
This year's annual car show and cruise-in will be held on July 2, 3 and 4. The cruise-in will be begin around 2:00 p.m. on Friday and the car show will be in the Elkins City Park on Saturday and Sunday.
The Colgate Country Showdown will be held this year on Friday evening on the Elkins Town Square with fireworks immediately following the showdown or as soon there after as it is dark enough for them to be enjoyed.
This will be the last year the car show will be sponsored by the Mountain State Street Machine Car Club. Organized in 1984, this will be the 26th and final show spearheaded by Jim Knicely. Jim and his wife, Suzanne, have been indefatigable workers with the show for all these years beginning their efforts in February each year to insure an adequately staffed, sponsored and enjoyable show. It has grown from a show of about 25 cars in 1984 to become the state's largest of its kind. For the past two decades more than 650 owners of modified street rods, original antiques, and restored era vehicles have come to Elkins to show their "pride and joy" to the community's car lovers.
Efforts are underway to find another entity to take over the event and save it from extinction.
Merchants are needed to participate in a poker walk(s) on Friday Evening. If you would like to participate contact Ed or Elaine Griesel at 304-636-2903. This is a great way to get new prospective customers into your places of business and to make new friends.