Manufacturing plays a particularly important role in supporting jobs in a core group of states in the upper Midwest and South states. The manufacturing sector employs workers at all skill and education levels, and is a particularly important provider of jobs with good wages for workers without a college degree.

The data show that manufacturing employment was stable for three decades until 1998, and has been on a largely downward trajectory since then, with traditional manufacturing states hit particularly hard. Given its size and importance, we cannot ignore the consequences of such a decline. Further, the policies that would help manufacturing the most are those that would help close the nation’s large trade deficit.


Fast Facts: “Right-to-Work” Won’t Boost West Virginia’s Economy

“Right-to-Work” laws do not guarantee jobs for workers. Instead they prohibit unions and employers from including a provision in contracts that requires employees who benefit from union representation to pay for their fair share toward those costs. PDF of Fast Facts.

Some state lawmakers argue that if West Virginia adopted a so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) law it would boost job growth, workforce participation and manufacturing in the state. But that theory is built on relationships that do not exist and a misunderstanding of the evidence. The most rigorous analysis shows RTW laws have no significant impact on state economic growth but do lead to lower wages, less benefits, and a decrease in unionization.

State of Working West Virginia 2013: From Weirton Steel to Wal-Mart

This edition of The State of Working West Virginia is the sixth of its kind. Each year since 2008 this report has examined the numbers and trends that tell the story of how the people who keep our state moving are faring. While each year’s report has a slightly different focus, one constant theme is the need to ask this simple question: what about the people who do the work? Read PDF of report

It is not hard to find stories in the media about the dire effects of West Virginia’s business or judicial climate but much rarer is consideration given to the climate for those who produce and provide the necessary goods and services that make modern life possible. Yet, as a song inspired by struggling West Virginia coal miners a century ago observes, “without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.”

We hear much today about makers, takers and job creators, but this report examines the evidence and makes the case that the basis of a strong economy and a vibrant society is a healthy middle class. It also recommends policies intended to build the middle class. In this case, however, it may be helpful to look at the past as the state prepares to move forward.

The theme of this year’s report is Weirton Steel to Wal-Mart, signifying the vast economic transition that took place in recent decades as good jobs in manufacturing and mining gave way to lower wage, and lower- or no-benefit jobs in the service sector. The intent is neither to praise the one nor condemn the other. Rather, it is to examine the difficult road West Virginia workers have traveled and suggest ways of moving to a brighter future.