Race Matters in West Virginia
It’s hard to believe it’s almost been a year since hundreds of people from across West Virginia participated in the first Summit on Race Matters. Since then, events have happened across the state and now there’s a website where you can stay in touch.
RaceMattersWV.net launched this week with ways you can Learn, Connect and Act in the campaign to end racial inequity in West Virginia.
The website is made possible with funding from the West Virginia Humanities Council and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Want to join the conversation in person? Plan to attend the Race Matters Summit in Lewisburg, WV on November 10 and 11. More information to follow.
West Virginia’s natural gas boom has not led to greater economic development. Overall, West Virginia lost jobs during the boom, and growth has been disappointing in the counties that have seen the biggest increase in gas production.
Last week we released A Win-Win Marcellus Shale Tax Incentive, with recommendations on how to increase the severance tax on natural gas liquids while providing an incentive for in-state consumers and producers.
Next Meeting of Tax Reform Committee
The Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform will meet on Monday to take up the issue of property taxes. On the agenda are Calvin Kent from the Marshall University Lewis College of Business and Jared Walczak, Policy Analyst with the Tax Foundation.
Please mark your calendar for the Committee’s public hearing on October 20. Here are some basic principles that we, along with the organizations listed below, ask legislators to consider in any tax reform recommendations.
Ever Thought of Running for Office?
The West Virginia Candidate Training Academy is hosting non-partisan training events for people interested in running for elected office of any kind, this year or in the future.
Learn from the experts:
- Stump Speech Training: How to tell your story
- How to Ask For Money
- What to Run For, and When
- Campaign Strategy
- Panel Discussion with People Who Can Help You
- The Inside Scoop From Successful Campaigners
Training workshops are being held in:
- Lewisburg – November 12
- Martinsburg – November 21
- Charleston – December 5
- Wheeling – December 8
To learn more, go here.
Final Days to Cast Vote for 2016 Our Children Our Future Platform (Budget Beat – September 25, 2015)
Cast Your Vote for the 2016 Our Children Our Future Policy Platform – Deadline Wednesday!
Time is running out to vote for the top issues that will become next year’s platform to help end child poverty in West Virginia.
Take a minute and vote for your top five choices today! Help us put a West Virginia Earned Income Tax Credit and Fair Taxes That Protects Roads, Children and Seniors on the platform!
West Virginia is in the midst of a natural gas drilling boom that has not brought gains in employment along with it. Our report out this week recommends a new tax incentive that, instead of providing tax breaks that largely benefit out-of-state corporations, would put money directly into the state’s budget while giving an incentive to natural gas consumers and producers who create West Virginia manufacturing jobs.
Here’s more in this week’s Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Meetings of the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform continue on Monday and throughout the fall. What recommendations will the Committee present to the legislature? Based on comments this week from Senate President Bill Cole in the Beckley Register-Herald, this may not be the year for tax reform.
We are following this process closely and encourage you to attend the Committee’s public hearing on October 20 to have your voice heard on this important process that affects all of us in West Virginia.
Exciting Job Opportunities!
The Nature Conservancy is looking for qualified candidates to fill the position of Energy Policy Coordinator. This is a half-time position based in Charleston. Candidates are encouraged to apply even if they are not able to move to Charleston. Apply online at online at nature.org/careers.
Our partners at West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families are looking for an Administrative Director to join their dynamic team. Learn more about this exciting opportunity here.
How Tax Reform Should Include Our Working Families
This week at the conclusion of the standing-room-only Our Children Our Future Policy Summit, a diverse coalition of organizations that cares about kids, families, seniors and working people, presented basic principles of fair taxation.
Surrounded by student advocates and allies, leaders from labor, faith-based, and community action groups all spoke to the need to invest in our schools, infrastructure and work force, instead of cutting taxes more for the wealthy.
The coalition asked legislators to consider the following:
- Any new tax proposal should not jeopardize schools, roads, colleges, kids, or seniors. This includes protecting services for vulnerable West Virginians.
- Any new tax proposal should include accountability measures for tax breaks or credits so we know they are working.
- Any new tax proposal should not increase taxes on low- and middle-income families; in West Virginia we already have an upside-down tax structure where working families are forced to pay more than their fair share.
- Any new tax proposal should consider new and alternative sources of revenue to pay for urgent needs such as infrastructure, education and human services.
- Any new tax proposal should avoid changes to revenue generation that would short circuit the democratic process and weaken the state’s ability to meet future needs.
It’s likely that the Joint Select Committee on Tax Reform will recommend some sort of tax cut for the wealthy, perhaps by cutting personal income tax rates for those with high incomes. Reflecting back at the impact of seven years of business tax cuts, while some state leaders supported them at the time, they are now saying that the cuts went too far and did not bring about their promised gains in job creation. The WVCBP’s predictions came true, despite having our opinion called unrealistic by the WV Chamber of Commerce back in 2008. Here’s more in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Census Numbers Bring Good and Bad News
It was a week of mixed data from U.S. Census with the good news that West Virginia has drastically reduced its number of people who lack health insurance, and the bad news that its rate of poverty stayed stubbornly high in 2014.
Over 90% of West Virginians now have health insurance. The almost 100,000 of us gaining access to health insurance in 2014 was the third biggest decline in uninsured people in the country.
Much work needs to be done to tackle the state’s high poverty rate and low median income (see below for how to vote to help make this happen). One in four children in West Virginia lived in poverty in 2014 and the state’s overall poverty rate of 18.3% was essentially remained unchanged since 2013.
Cast Your Vote for the 2016 Our Children Our Future Policy Platform!
Now that the 2015 Our Children Our Summit has wrapped up, it’s time to vote to select the top issues that will become next year’s platform to help end child poverty in West Virginia.
Bridge the Divides: Transform Politics
If you are in the Wheeling area on Monday, you have two chances to join Nuns on the Bus as they call for a new political reality. The group will be collecting stories to take to Congress as part of their call for change.
The Census Bureau released the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) this week, which contains data on poverty, income, and health insurance coverage for all 50 states. For West Virginia, the data release had both some really good and some not-so-good news.
First the good news. The 2014 ACS release was to first to have data on health insurance coverage with the Affordable Care Act in full effect, including the expansion of Medicaid. And, as one of the states that opted to expand Medicaid, West Virginia saw a major decline in its uninsured population. The number of West Virginians without health insurance coverage fell by nearly 100,000, from 14% of the population, to just 8.6%, the third biggest decline in the country. The decline in the number of uninsured was more than 10 times bigger than any previous year’s change. Now over 91% of West Virginia’s population has health insurance.
The Affordable Care Act is largely responsible for the decline in West Virginia’s uninsured population. As part of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid was expanded to people making up to just $32,500 per year for a family of four (138 percent of the federal poverty rate). The Supreme Court, however, left it up to the states to decide whether to extend their benefits to these families and accept the federal funding to do so. In May of 2013, Governor Tomblin decided to expand West Virginia’s Medicaid program, and as of June 2015, more than 164,000 newly eligible West Virginians are receiving health insurance through expansion.
Other provisions of health care reform are also helping reduce the number of West Virginians without health insurance. 33,000 West Virginians have enrolled in health care plans through the state’s new health insurance marketplace, which allows people to easily compare prices and benefits of health care plans. Many of these people receive federal subsidies to help them pay their premiums and reduce their out-of-pocket health costs.
The expansion of health insurance largely benefits low-income working families. Children under 18 and West Virginians participating in the labor force made up more than 2/3rds of the decline in the uninsured population.
It wasn’t all good news for West Virginia from the Census Bureau, however. While the data release from the ACS showed significant progress in insurance coverage, the state is not seeing any progress in reducing poverty. The state’s poverty rate in 2014 was 18.3%, essentially unchanged from 2013 and still above its pre-recession levels. One in four children in West Virginia lives in poverty. In addition, the state’s median household income hasn’t budged since the recession, and at $41,059, is the 2nd lowest among the 50 states.
But just like policies such as the Affordable Care Act made a difference in the state’s uninsured rate, theyy can make a difference when it comes to poverty. Enacting a pro-work state earned income tax credit would open the doors of opportunity for people at low-wage jobs by letting them keep more of what they earn to help pay for things that allow them to keep working, such as child care and transportation. This will help build a more secure future for these families – including their kids – while boosting local economies across the state. In contrast, proposals to cut taxes for the wealthy and businesses would close the doors of opportunity, taking away resources from services families rely on every day without boosting the economy or creating jobs.
A state earned income tax credit, set at 15% of the federal credit, would supplement the existing federal earned income tax credit and benefit 158,000 working West Virginia families. It would provide an average credit of $332 a year to those families and put $52 million back into local economies in West Virginia. Twenty-six other states and the District of Columbia already have a state earned income tax credit.
Join Us Right After the OCOF Policy Summit
Right after the wrap-up of the Our Children Our Future Policy Summit, join us in the Governor’s Conference Room (inside the Secretary of State’s office) on September 15 at 12:30 PM for the release of the report, “Tax Reform That Protects Roads, Children and Seniors.”
A diverse coalition of organizations that cares about kids, families, seniors and working people, community organizations and local governments will come together to support basic principles of fair taxation for legislators to consider as they deliberate changes to the tax code.
The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) help thousands of working West Virginia families make ends meet. But unless Congress acts, 131,000 children in 81,000 families in West Virginia could lose an important piece of their family budgets when critical provisions of the EITC and CTC expire.
To put the numbers in perspective, a single mother with two children in Huntington who works full time at $8.75/hour, earning just $17,500/year, would lose $1,565 of her $2,000 CTC.
The Unworthy Poor
The Our Children Our Future Policy Summit is an annual gathering of those working to end child poverty in West Virginia. For further inspiration, read this brief but powerful essay, “Our Perceptions About the Unworthy Poor Haven’t Changed.”
It concludes with this: “Only when we change a system that traps so many Americans in a struggle to meet their basic needs will we create an economy defined by opportunity and the chance for anyone to thrive.”
Relief for Coal Communities
There was more national attention on the decline of the region’s coal industry this week. This Bloomberg article touches upon how Appalachian communities are passing resolutions of support for President Obama’s Power Plus Plan. It also quotes WVCBP Executive Director Ted Boettner on how funding the West Virginia Future Fund will provide resources for communities once the jobs are gone.
For perspective on why West Virginia should embrace the Power Plus Plan, check out this oped by former State Senator Dan Foster in this week’s Charleston Gazette-Mail.
It’s Not Too Late to Register for the OCOF Policy Summit – Join Us! (Budget Beat – September 4, 2015)
Last Week to Register for Our Children Our Future Policy Summit!
It’s almost here! It’s almost time for the Our Children Our Future Policy Summit. Have you registered yet?
We are partial but think you’ll especially want to attend the panel discussion on Participatory Budgeting, Tax Reform and the state Earned Income Tax Credit featuring our very own Ted Boettner and Sean O’Leary!
Tax Reform for ALL West Virginians
On September 15, Day Two of the Policy Summit, stick around for the release of our Tax Fairness Statement of Principles. Dozens of organizations have signed on to let the Joint Committee on Tax Reform, and the rest of the legislature know, that when it comes to tax reform, they need to remember all West Virginia families, including those living in poverty.
Any push for tax reform in West Virginia needs to remember working families. We will ask legislators to create a state Earned Income Tax Credit so that West Virginia can join the 25 other states and the District of Columbia who reward hard-working families who need a hand up to pay for their basic needs.
Come by the Governor’s Conference Room (inside the Secretary of State’s office) at 12:30PM on Tuesday, September 15 and help us deliver this important message.
Seth DiStefano Joins Our Team!
This week Seth DiStefano came on board as our State EITC Campaign Coordinator. Seth is a native West Virginian and has worked with progressive coalitions in the state before as Field Organizer for the ACLU WV. His goal is to make West Virginia the 26th state to have its own EITC, providing a tax credit to low-income working families, and helping workers stay on the job.
WVCBP In the News
National (and international) focus on West Virginia’s economy continued this week with the Wall Street Journal, Nasdaq and the Australian reporting on the ripple effect to other businesses as the state’s coal industry continues to slow, citing WVCBP data.
As stock markets around the globe continue their roller coaster ride, the ups and downs are unlikely to be felt in West Virginia. Read what Ted had to say in this week’s Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram.
No Matter Where They Live, Women In Unions Earn More
To commemorate Women’s Equality Day and the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, this week the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released a new report on women in unions. The report found that women in unions earn more than women who are not in a union. This holds true in every state including West Virginia.
According to the study, women in unions earn an average of $212, or 30.9%, more per week than women in nonunion jobs.
Here’s more in Sean’s blog post.
How Much Does it Take to Make Ends Meet in West Virginia?
A new Family Budget calculator from the Economic Policy Institute shows that a two-parent family with two children living in rural West Virginia needs $61,579 to get by and afford basic expenses. That same family earning the state’s minimum wage earns just $33,280.
Enacting a refundable West Virginia Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would give a boost to these families by putting more money in their pockets to pay for basic necessities. It would also improve our state’s upside-down tax system and help create more jobs in its rural areas.
Read more in Ted’s blog post.
Jennifer Thacker, Executive Director of the WV Alliance for Sustainable Families,and WVCBP board member, takes the state EITC message on the road this week.
National Headlines: West Virginia Only State to Lose Jobs in July
Having the highest unemployment rate in the nation garnered West Virginia national attention in recent days.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week how falling energy prices are impacting the state’s coal industry. The effect of cheap natural gas on the coal industry was also cited in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week.
WVCBP Executive Director Ted Boettner was quoted in both articles, here in the Journal-Constitution: “People want cleaner energy, but the coal industry just doesn’t know how to pivot and produce a cleaner product. Many of West Virginia’s remaining coal seams are also thinning out, making it harder to produce coal at a competitive price.”
Federal assistance could help struggling coal communities through President Obama’s proposed Power Plus Plan. The plan would provide $20 million to retrain laid-off coal miners and $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission to assist those communities in making an economic transition to new technologies.
For more on West Virginia’s jobs crisis, and which employment sectors are being hit the hardest, read Ted’s blog post from this week.
Black Students in West Virginia Disproportionately Punished at School
A study this week from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education found that 13 southern states, including West Virginia, had more than half of all suspensions of black students in the nation.
Here’s more in this week’s Charleston Gazette-Mail.
West Virginia Health Impact Assessments Meeting
Help create healthier, wealthier and wiser Communities! Find out how you can utilize Health Impact Assessments to assess population health during the decision-making process about a broad range of public policies, programs and projects before they are implemented on September 3 in Charleston from 9:00 AM to noon.
Registration Open for Our Children Our Future Policy Summit!
Join West Virginians from across the state on September 14 and 15 to lead policy strategy sessions on 27 issues affecting kids and families. This event is an opportunity for citizens to learn more about policy efforts throughout their communities, engage with their elected officials and interact with dozens of policy organizations!
How much money does it take to make ends meet in West Virginia? A new Family Budget calculator from the Economic Policy Institute shows what is required for families to attain a secure yet modest standard of living in rural and urban communities in West Virginia. While the cost of living around West Virginia varies for families, those making poverty-level wages cannot begin to cover basic expenses.
Compared with the federal poverty line and Supplemental Poverty Measure, EPI’s family budgets provide a more accurate and complete measure of economic security in America and West Virginia. For example, a two-parent family with two young children in rural West Virginia, with both parents making the state minimum wage of $8 an hour, would make only $33,280. This is about half of the $61,579 the family would need in annual income to have a modest standard of living that covers the basics – such as housing, food, child care, and transportation. This helps explain why so many people across the country have been demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour, because that is about what it would take for this family to have decent standard of living without any public assistance.
Here is a breakdown of a monthly estimate of expenses for rural West Virginia families. The calculation assumes that families prepare all their meals at home, live in modest housing, and only travel for work and non-social reasons. The measure also takes into account items such as cell phones and home furnishings, but not vacations or saving for retirement or college.
According to the latest American Community Survey, about half or 47 percent of children in West Virginia were in families where their parents (or guardians) made less than twice the poverty rate in 2013 – which is below what families with children need to cover the basics. While West Virginia offers some services to these families such as health insurance, child care assistance, and other programs, these policies are not enough. Working families need better-paying jobs and policies that reward hard work for low-income families that are playing by the rules.
Enacting a refundable West Virginia Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would be a step in the right direction. It would not only put more money in the pockets of the states’s low- and moderate-income workers but it would also improve our state’s upside-down tax system and help create more jobs in its rural areas.
In honor of Women’s Equality Day, recognizing the certification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released a new report on women in unions. The report found that women in unions earn more than women who are not in a union in every state including West Virginia.
Women have been growing as a share of total union members in the past three decades, from 33.4% of union members in 1984 to 45.5% in 2014. In West Virginia, women make up 41.9% of union membership. Overall 11.7% of working women are members of a union in West Virginia, compared to 11.9% nationwide.
Union membership tends to result in higher wages and improved benefits, particularly for middle- and low-wage earners, many of whom are women. According to the IWPR study, nationwide, women represented by labor unions earn an average of $212, or 30.9%, more per week than women in nonunion jobs. The union advantage for women is smaller, but still significant when controlling for age, education, and industry. In West Virginia, women in unions earn $176, or 29% more per week than nonunionized women.
West Virginia was one of 32 states where the size of the union-wage advantage was enough to cover the costs of full-time child care for an infant. The report also found women who are labor union members are more likely to participate in a pension plan, and more likely to receive health insurance benefits through their job than women who are not union members.
The report acknowledges that while unionized women enjoy a number of advantages, inequality in the workforce does not disappear for them. The report suggests a number of policies to support working women, including opposing “right to work” laws, increasing the minimum and tipped minimum wages, increasing the overtime threshold, expanding access to affordable and quality childcare, and enacting paid family and sick leave policies.
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its employment and unemployment survey for July 2015 and the news for West Virginia’s economy continues to be bad. West Virginia not only has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 7.5 percent, it is also the only state to have lost a statistically significant number of jobs since July of last year.
West Virginia’s economy has performed particularly poorly over the last six months. Between January and July of 2015, West Virginia has lost 22,500 jobs or about 2.9 percent of its job base, after adjusting for seasonal patterns.
A Blip on Measuring Local Government Jobs?
According to BLS, about half, or 9,900, of the job losses since January 2015 were in local government, however, almost all occurred between May and June when the school year ended. Since about two-thirds of local government employment in West Virginia is comprised of people who work for the school system, there is a good chance that this may be a blip in the data. Even though these numbers are seasonally adjusted, meaning BLS takes into account things like school schedules when adjusting the job levels, there is always a lot of volatility in measuring local government employment. As the chart below highlights, even when local government employment is seasonally adjusted, there is always a month or two in which there are large spikes in the data.
While there have been recent news stories about local government layoffs due to the decline in the local share of coal severance taxes, we need to wait a few months to see if the data jump back up now that school is back in session.
Construction and Mining Still Shedding Jobs
Outside of local government, the sectors that have suffered the worst job losses are construction and mining. Over the last six months, the state has lost 4,000 construction and 3,400 mining jobs, largely due to the sharp drop in energy prices, especially natural gas, and the continuing decline of West Virginia coal production. Other sectors that lost a lot of jobs over the last six months include finance and insurance (-1,200), professional business services (-900), and leisure and hospitality (-800).
Since the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007, West Virginia has had the third-worst job growth in the nation at -2.6 percent, behind only New Mexico and Alabama. Outside of Ohio, each of our neighboring states has more jobs today than before the Great Recession. West Virginia had 19,700 fewer jobs in July 2015 than in December 2007.
Back to the Future?
Moving from the establishment survey, which counts the number of jobs by industry, to the household survey that looks at unemployment, West Virginia’s doesn’t look any healthier than it did in 1980. The number of West Virginians employed and the size of the labor force is roughly what it was nearly 35 years ago. Similar to 1980, there are about 785,000 people in the state’s labor force and between 720,000 and 725,000 people employed.
The only good news from July’s jobs report was that the state’s labor force has grown by about 5,000 over the last year and 7,400 over the last six months. Without this growth, the unemployment rate would have been lower, 7.1 percent compared to 7.5 percent. So, a higher unemployment rate is not so bad as long as there is growth in the labor force. That said, even at 7.1 percent, West Virginia still has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.
Time to Power Up
While an aging population and lack of population growth appear to be large factors negatively affecting employment, the state’s energy sector is being hit hard by low prices, competition, and public demand for clean energy. One way West Virginia policymakers could boost the state’s economy would be to push hard for the White House’s POWER Plus Plan that includes over $5 billion in funding to coal states to help them diversify their economies and help coal miners retrain and retool. Letting politics and ideology get in the way of this investment would not only be a disservice to working families, but will ensure that our coalfield communities continue to decline and deteriorate.