MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia posted solid job, population and income gains in 2005.

However, these gains are expected to give way to slower growth during the next decade, according to the latest 10-year forecast issued by the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics.

"In 2005, West Virginia posted its fastest year-to-year job growth since 2000," said George W. Hammond, research associate professor in the college's Bureau of Business and Economic Research and author of the report. "State employment rose by 9,700 last year, and that translates into a growth rate of 1.3 percent."

The nation added jobs at a faster rate last year, recording a 1.5 percent growth rate.

Natural resources and mining (which includes coal mining and oil and gas) and construction combined to add 4,300 jobs last year. Manufacturing continued to lose jobs, although at a slower pace than in 2004. Trade, transportation and utilities; health care; and leisure and hospitality combined to add 6,000 jobs to the state economy in 2005. West Virginia's unemployment rate fell in 2005 to just 5 percent, which is the lowest unemployment rate recorded in the 29 years for which data exists.

West Virginia's per capita personal income rose by 2.1 percent in 2005, after adjustment for inflation, outpacing national growth of 1.2 percent. The state added 4,300 residents last year, reflecting positive net migration to the state. West Virginia continued to post more deaths than births in 2005, the only state in the nation to do so.

"The forecast calls for sustained U.S. growth during the next decade, and that sets the stage for continued, but relatively slow, growth in the West Virginia economy," Hammond said.

State job growth averages 0.7 percent per year during the next decade, which translates into 5,200 jobs per year, close to the national rate of 0.9 percent per year. Goods-producing jobs will rise a little during the forecast, while service-providing jobs drive the bulk of the job gains. The unemployment rate should remain in the 4.5 percent range during the forecast.

West Virginia real per capita personal income growth continues, but falls below the national rate, which implies little or no progress for the state in further closing the income gap with that of the national average. According to data for 2005, the per capita personal income gap stands at 21.3 percent.

West Virginia's population rises slowly during the forecast, driven by small positive net migration combined with continued negative natural increase. The share of the state's residents age 65 and older rises from 15.3 percent in 2005 to 17.1 percent by 2016, reflecting an additional 36,000 residents in the 65-and-older age group.

Electronic copies of the long-term forecast are available at www.bber.wvu.edu.

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