Blog Posts > 14th Edition of State of Working West Virginia Explores Relationship between Declining Worker Power and Rising Economic Inequality in the Mountain State
August 26, 2021

14th Edition of State of Working West Virginia Explores Relationship between Declining Worker Power and Rising Economic Inequality in the Mountain State

For Immediate Release: August 26, 2021
Contact: Renee Alves, 559-916-5939

Charleston, WV – As West Virginia works to recover from the COVID-19 recession, its path forward remains uncertain. While the pandemic undoubtedly introduced unique hardships, the difficult truth is that West Virginia has been struggling economically for decades. For many years, the state has lagged behind the nation in regard to a number of positive economic indicators, with low earnings and high rates of poverty and unemployment. Prior to the pandemic, the national economy had enjoyed steady growth over the past decade, but West Virginia was increasingly left behind.

While poor economic performance has now become recognized as an unfortunate norm for West Virginia, it is important to remember that this has not been the state’s whole story. In fact, just a few decades ago, the state performed much better on a host of economic indicators and found itself much more aligned with the nation. The critical difference was that, back then, we grew stronger because we grew together.

Our new report, State of Working West Virginia 2021: Labor, Race, and Solidarity, explores the interrelated declines of worker power and economic equality in the Mountain State. This piece, the 14th edition of the WVCBP’s State of Working West Virginia series, includes three parts and was co-authored by the WVCBP’s senior policy analyst, Sean O’Leary, and the WVCBP’s summer research associate, Myya Helm.

Part 1 of the report, by O’Leary, examines the economic transition that took place in recent decades as inequality grew, wage growth stagnated, and job quality declined in West Virginia. It draws heavily on quantitative data to argue that the decline of unions was a significant factor in the rise of economic inequality in the state.

Part 2, by Helm, takes a qualitative, in-depth look at the labor history of West Virginia – exploring both how strong unions played a key role when our state grew together, and how their decline played a key role when it started to grow apart.

Helm states, “West Virginia’s workers and unions have long shaped American labor history through their strength, endurance, and resilience. They have exerted a broad influence on daily political, economic, and cultural life throughout the country. As the future of unions hangs in the balance, we all have the collective responsibility to share the stories and sacrifices of working West Virginians. Doing so will help ensure that all workers’ rights are protected for decades to come.”

Part 3, co-written by O’Leary and Helm, outlines policy recommendations to strengthen worker power in West Virginia, which in turn could contribute to improving the state’s economic performance.

You can find the full report here.

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