Tuesday, October 02, 2018
Coal jobs are up in West Virginia, but so is the poverty rate
Though President Trump has boasted that he has turned around West Virginia's economy during his tenure, poverty is a growing problem there. "The Appalachian state is, along with Delaware, just one of two states where poverty rose last year, bucking the national trend of growing incomes and declining hardship, according to U.S. Census data released earlier this month," Aimee Picchi reports for CBS News. "West Virginia's poverty rate climbed to 19.1 percent last year from 17.9 percent, making it just one of four states with a poverty rate above 18 percent."
West Virginia gained about 1,400 coal jobs in 2017, an 11 percent increase over the annual average for 2016, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. From early 2013 to late 2016, it saw a net job loss of 26,000, much if it in coal. It has the lowest labor force participation in the U.S., at 53 percent, according to a West Virginia University study.
The state's coal production through the second quarter of 2018 was up 3.1 percent over the first two quarters of 2017. The state's gross product grew by 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2018, putting it 37th in the nation and slowing from its 2.6 percent growth in the first quarter of 2017. The problem is that that growth has been in low-wage industries. "Folks who find jobs haven't found jobs that keep them out of poverty," said Sean O'Leary, senior policy analyst for the liberal-leaning West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
"West Virginia's dismal trends point to an economic issue that's impacting states across the country: Workers at the bottom of the pay scale aren't benefiting from the growing economy," Picchi reports. "Their issues range from low pay to unstable and scanty work hours, which makes it difficult to earn a living wage. Almost one in four West Virginians is employed in a low-wage job, the WVCBP found."
West Virginia is also reeling from the opioid epidemic and a shortage of college-educated adults. About 21 percent of West Virginians aged 25-64 have a college degree, making it one of the least-educated states in the country. In the post-recession economy, people with college degrees tend to fare better. "But many who lack that credential have been left out of the recovery, as evidenced in West Virginia," Picchi reports. The state's climb out of poverty is also hindered by its small workforce size, older population, and higher rates of disability; all make it hard to attract employers.