A persistent question for those who pondered West Virginia’s fate is a simple: why, in a state rich in natural resources, are West Virginians so poor? For more than a century several explanations have been developed by natives and interested “outsiders.” Read the report.
This report, the ninth annual investigation of The State of Working West Virginia, comes at one of those times when national attention has been drawn to the state in the wake of the 2016 elections. In an even more unusual twist, much national discussion has focused around the conditions of our working class, an example of which is the surprise success of J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
This analysis is an effort to cut through often overheated rhetoric and look at the available data and at historical trends. The report begins with review of the long debate regarding the causes of West Virginia’s poverty. These have ranged from cultural explanations to those that emphasize the colonial nature of the economy. It will then proceed to look at current data, including a rigorous statistical regression analysis of the factors that contribute to the region’s poverty. It will conclude with recommendations about how to effectively address it. These are difficult times for the state, with the decline of our dominant industry and the related crisis of the state budget. We hope this effort will support the work of citizens and decision makers as we try to move forward.
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