State of Working West Virginia 2012 — In Depth: The Gas Boom and Coal Bust

While the state slowly recovers from the Great Recession, struggles remain. There is only one job opening for every four people looking for work, the state has the lowest workforce participation rate in the nation, and West Virginia workers earn, on average, one dollar less an hour than the national average. Raising the minimum wage, creating a “Future Fund” by setting aside part of the severance tax on coal and gas, and expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are just a few of the policy recommendations in this year’s report. Read

It is not unusual in West Virginia to hear strident warnings about the state’s business climate, the status of which is said to range from healthy to “hellhole.” Whatever the merit of such statements, it is only fitting at least once a year to change the question and to ask instead what the climate is for West Virginia’s working people.

Working people, after all, are the drivers of our economy as well as just about everything that moves in the state. They mine the coal, extract the gas, manufacture the goods, deliver the goods and provide the services, and care for the people. Their compensation, in the form of wages and benefits, provides most of the demand that drives the economy. By virtue of their labor and spending, they are arguably our real wealth and job creators.

And, unlike the gas, oil and coal that lie beneath our soil, they can and do move all by themselves, often heading for better opportunities elsewhere when these are not to be found in the Mountain State. This report will examine the most recent data on the well-being of working families and make recommendations about policy decisions that could maximize their well-being.