Blog Posts > Data Released Today Shows West Virginia Had 6th Highest Poverty Rate in the Country Even Before COVID Hardship, More Relief Needed
September 17, 2020

Data Released Today Shows West Virginia Had 6th Highest Poverty Rate in the Country Even Before COVID Hardship, More Relief Needed

For Immediate Release: September 17, 2020

Contact: Sean O’Leary, 304-400-8899

Charleston, WV – New data released today from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and an analysis of data from its ongoing Household Pulse Survey and other sources paints a bleak picture. People across West Virginia — particularly West Virginians of color and those with low incomes — continue to face dire economic hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, making the need for bold action at the state and federal levels clearer than ever.

An estimated 278,734 West Virginians lived in poverty in 2019, for a total poverty rate of 16.0 percent. While poverty declined by 1.8 percentage points from 2018, West Virginia’s poverty rate is still 3.7 percentage points higher than the national average, making it the 6th highest rate among the 50 states.

West Virginia’s median household income was an estimated $48,850 in 2019, $16,862 below the national average. While West Virginia’s median household income increased in 2019, adjusting for inflation, West Virginia still had the 2nd lowest median household income among the 50 states.

The poverty and income data from the Census Bureau do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. More current data from this summer show a sharp rise in hardship across West Virginia:

  • 11.8 percent of adults reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days.
  • 17.0 percent of adults with children reported that their kids sometimes or often didn’t eat enough in the last seven days because they couldn’t afford to.
  • 19.0 percent of adults who live in rental housing reported that they were behind on rent, and 6.0 percent are behind on their mortgage payments.
  • And 29.0 percent of all children in West Virginia live in a family that is either not getting enough to eat or is behind on housing payments.

This severe hardship is being felt even more acutely by West Virginians of color and people with very low incomes, who were already struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic as a result of longstanding inequities.

“As we see every day, people across West Virginia are struggling to pay their bills, put food on the table, and return to work. And many of these same West Virginians are the ones that are on the frontlines of this pandemic, working at child care centers, grocery stores, and in other low-paid jobs,” said Sean O’Leary, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy senior policy analyst. “Our federal and state policymakers must act decisively to help families and individuals facing today’s extreme levels of hardship, especially children and those in Black, Latino, Indigenous, and immigrant households.”

Here’s what they can do:

Federal: Congress must act swiftly to provide more federal relief that matches the extraordinary need that households and our economy face. That includes boosting vital assistance programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and housing assistance, extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and allocating additional aid to states and local governments that can help prevent further layoffs and cuts to core public services.

State: Lawmakers must meet the demands of the moment by advancing bold policies to build antiracist, equitable, and inclusive communities and an economic recovery that extends to all people.

Other highlights from the Census Bureau release include:

  • West Virginia’s child poverty rate in 2019 was 19.6 percent, with 67,507 children living in poverty. West Virginia had the 7th highest child poverty rate among the 50 states.
  • Poverty remains a more serious problem for Black West Virginians due to historic and current inequities. The state’s Black poverty rate was 26.9 percent in 2019.
  • Seniors in West Virginia are less likely to be in poverty than the rest of the state. The state’s senior poverty rate in 2019 was 9.3 percent.
  • Poverty rates decrease for adults with higher levels of education. In 2019, the poverty rate for West Virginians with at least a bachelor’s degree was 4.1 percent, while it was 15.9 percent for those with just a high school diploma. Poverty was highest among those who did not graduate from high school, at 28.7 percent.
  • Women in West Virginia face higher poverty rates than men. In 2019, West Virginia’s poverty rate for women was 18.0 percent, compared to 14.0 percent for men.

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