First, despite recent health coverage gains in the years following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, fewer West Virginians were covered by health insurance in 2017 than in 2016. 109,000 West Virginians lacked health insurance in 2017, an increase of 13,000 from 2016. West Virginia’s uninsured rate increased from 5.3 percent to 6.1 percent between 2016 and 2017. Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medicaid in the state, West Virginia’s uninsured rate was 13.4 percent, with 255,000 people without health insurance coverage.
West Virginia had experienced some of the highest health coverage gains in the nation following the Affordable Care Act, but that trend stopped in 2017. Making sure people have access to quality, affordable health care builds stronger, healthier communities. We need to again reverse the trend, stabilize the health care marketplace and ensure signing up for coverage is easy.
Then, after not so great news on the health care front, the Census data on incomes and poverty also showed troubling signs for West Virginia. West Virginia’s poverty rate increased in 2017 to 19.1 percent, an increase of 1.2 percentage points from 2016, and 5.7 percentage points higher than the national average. More distressing, West Virginia’s poverty rate has not declined at all since the end of the Great Recession, and is now the 4th highest in the country.
Poverty rates for children, minorities, seniors and people of all education level increased in 2017 in West Virginia.
In addition, despite small gains nationally, West Virginia’s median household income was unchanged. Median household income measures the income of the typical household – or the household in the middle of the income distribution – and serves as a good indicator for how the middle class is faring. In 2017, West Virginia’s median household income was an estimated $43,469, $16,867 below the national average, ranking lowest among the 50 states. West Virginia’s median household income did not increase in the past year, and, adjusting for inflation, has not increased at all since 2007.
While the state’s political leaders claim an economic turnaround, the Census data makes clear that growing GDP numbers mean little for of everyday West Virginians, who’s economic hardships are being ignored. Tax cuts for the wealthy and anti-labor policies are not what West Virginia needs to build a shared prosperity. Policies proven to help working class families, like increases in the minimum wage, a state EITC, paid family and medical leave, among others make it easier for people to build a secure future. West Virginia will be a better place when we all have the opportunity to build a better life for ourselves and our children.
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