West Virginia’s population is increasingly living in urban areas, with those urban areas experiencing all the state’s job growth in the past quarter century, leaving rural West Virginia behind in many key areas, according to a new West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy report.
The report, State of Rural West Virginia, shows rural West Virginians primarily have poorer health, lower educational attainment levels, lower wages, are older and have fewer job opportunities outside of industrial and extractive industries, underscoring the contrast between the state’s rural and urban areas.
Rural West Virginia has been plagued with job losses from 2007 – 2016, losing more than 21,000 jobs, or eight percent, highlighting the uneven balance of West Virginia’s weak economic recovery.
Over the past decade, West Virginia has been one of the few states to lose population, and that loss has largely occurred in the state’s rural areas. Between the 2000 and 2010 decennial Census, West Virginia’s metro areas saw an increase in population of nearly 50,000 people, a five percent increase. In contrast, rural West Virginia experienced a population loss of roughly 4,600 people, a 0.6 percent decline.
The state’s rural and urban areas do share a lack of racial diversity, with White people accounting for more than 90 percent of the population in the state’s rural and urban areas.
Sustainable growth and broader economic growth can occur in rural areas of the state if policymakers put forth policies that invest in the people and public structures that provide the foundation for economic opportunity and make necessary quality of life improvements.
These policies can include: expanding high-speed internet, addressing the opioid crisis and improving rural health, enacting policies to boost wages and labor force participation, tax reforms that would provide revenue to invest in the state and policies that reduce racial disparities.