State of Working West Virginia 2014: Economic Recovery and Transition in the Mountain State

This report is the seventh in an annual series that examines the state of West Virginia’s economy as it impacts working people. Each year, we examine the latest available data on employment, income, productivity and job quality as well as the immediate economic challenges and opportunities. Read PDF of report.

The themes have varied from year to year with changes in the economy but the basic goal remains the same: to look at what can sometimes seem to be dreary numbers and indicators from the point of view of those who actually do the work.

It is very common to find reports in the media or comments from political leaders about the state’s business climate; it is all too seldom that the discussion turns to the climate for working people and their families. It is our belief that the economy exists for people and not people for the economy, and that a strong economy requires a growing middle class..

In this report, as in those of the past, we will attempt to identify short- and long-term trends and to find the story behind the numbers. Each year, we also recommend policy changes to improve conditions for working people, some of which have actually come to pass.

To use a nautical metaphor for a landlocked state, West Virginia’s economy can at times resemble a sailboat or a motorboat. In the former case, it is driven by external factors, such as the national and global economy. But, like a motorboat, our economy can also be driven by internal factors, such as its historic dependence on natural resource extraction.

In addition to external or internal market factors, the decisions of policymakers can have a huge impact on the economy and the quality of life for working families. Fortunately, in a democracy, this is something which ordinary working people can influence—and indeed have recently done so with some success.