Jobless report subject of spin
West Virginia's unemployment rate inched slightly higher in September.
While the increase was small, it served as a hefty portion of political campaign fodder with less than three weeks to go before Election Day.
According to the latest data from Workforce West Virginia, the state's unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percent to 7.6 percent in September, up from the 7.5 percent rate logged in August.
The state increase came as the national unemployment rate fell from August's 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent in September.
The state's increase was mainly due to 1,400 people entering the labor force, and not by employed people losing jobs. Survey data showed the number of employed West Virginians rose by 800 during the month.
The September report is the final read on the state's labor market ahead of the November election.
Republican Bill Maloney's campaign instantly seized on the data, attempting to portray it as evidence Democratic incumbent Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has not lived up to his "more jobs, lower taxes" campaign pledge.
The campaign pointed to state payroll data that showed the state lost 10,000 non-farm jobs over the past year, 7,300 of which were in the private sector.
"Earl Ray Tomblin proves he's been an utter failure on jobs," Maloney said in a statement following the release of the jobs data.
Workforce West Virginia reported most private-sector jobs were lost in the mining and logging sector, which has seen a drop of 5,600 jobs since September 2011.
The manufacturing sector lost 2,500 jobs in the past year, while the service sector lost 4,100 jobs, according to the payroll data.
Tomblin campaign spokesman Chris Stadelman acknowledged the tough economic conditions in recent months. But Stadelman said that since Tomblin took over as acting governor in November 2010, his overall track record on the economy is positive.
"Despite a difficult national environment, Governor Tomblin's fiscally responsible policies and business tax cuts have encouraged companies to invest $6 billion and create 8,500 new jobs in West Virginia in the past 22 months," Stadelman said.
When Tomblin and Maloney faced off in the governor's race last year, Tomblin was benefiting from the fact that the state's unemployment rate was dropping while the national unemployment rate remained above 8 percent.
That helped Tomblin argue the state's economy was improving in spite of national economic woes.
The state's unemployment rate hit a three-year low of 6.7 percent in April, but it has risen each of the five months since then. The national rate meanwhile has dipped below 8 percent for the first time since 2009.
The Maloney campaign blamed Tomblin for the rise in state unemployment over the last six months.
"At the national level the unemployment rate was coming down while ours is going up -who's at fault for that? Earl Ray Tomblin," said Kent Sholars, spokesman for the Maloney campaign. "We have less jobs now because of Earl Ray's policies."
Specifically, the Maloney campaign says Tomblin supports President Barack Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which they blame for causing the loss in mining jobs over the past year.
But Stadelman sharply rebuked that claim.
"Gov. Tomblin is endorsed by the West Virginia Coal Association, the United Mine Workers of America and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce because they know he is fighting President Obama's overreaching EPA," Stadelman said.
"As a son of West Virginia's coalfields, no one will ever fight harder for our miners and the entire coal industry than Earl Ray Tomblin, and anyone who suggests different is flat out lying," he said.
Stadelman said Tomblin is committed to bringing in new jobs and creating opportunities for those out of work.
"Internationally respected companies such as Macy's and Gestamp already are hiring, but Governor Tomblin knows there is more work to be done," Stadelman said.
He said Tomblin was committed to expanded worker training programs and improvements in education.
"Bill Maloney's only ideas are to impose new taxes on local residents and give tax breaks to millionaires who sell their companies and ship jobs elsewhere, just like he did," Stadelman said.
Stadelman's claim about new taxes was referring to recent sparring over Maloney's proposal to eliminate the property tax on business equipment and inventory.
Tomblin has said eliminating that tax altogether could cost local governments tens of millions of dollars, most of which go to fund schools. Tomblin said Maloney's plan would require finding another tax to offset the loss of revenue to schools.
The Maloney campaign claimed they could recapture that revenue through economic growth, not by imposing new taxes.
"Bill's belief on taxes is pretty simple: You lower taxes, you spur economic growth, you create jobs and revenues will grow," Sholars said. "Earl Ray Tomblin's plan is to put more taxes on West Virginia families."
Contact writer Jared Hunt at email@example.com or 304-348-5148.