The health of of close to 25,000 children in West Virginia is at risk if Congress does not chose to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). As Senator Jay Rockefeller mentioned in today’s Charleston Gazette, defunding CHIP could hurt not only children’s health but making it harder for families to make ends meet. CHIP is a highly successful program in West Virginia, granting quality health coverage to thousands of children from working families.
The added benefits offered in the CHIP program might otherwise be unaffordable for many working families in state. For example, CHIP’s medical benefits include dental care, hearing aids, and additional physical/occupational therapy where marketplace coverage designed for adults does not provide these options for children.
Additionally, CHIP coverage is much more affordable for working families due to the caps on deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. A report from the National Alliance to Advance Adolescent Health details the potential cost increases if the children in the CHIP program are moved to private marketplace plans, qualified health plans (QHPs).
Source: Margaret A. McManus and Harriette B. Fox, “Lack of Comparability Between CHIP and ACA Qualified Health Plans” (Washington, D.C.: The National Alliance To Advance Adolescent Health, July 2014).
These charts show that the out-of-pocket limits could cost families almost tenfold in a marketplace plan. Also, children in the CHIP program have to pay little to cover their deductibles, where, in marketplace plans, families could end up paying close to $2,500 before their insurance company will begin paying.
We shouldn’t be playing a political game with the health of children in our state. Children have special health care needs. Ignoring the difference in needs of children and adults will put the healthy development of children at risk.
The marketplaces are not yet ready to provide the type of comprehensive coverage these children need and the costs put children at risk of becoming uninsured altogether. West Virginians should encourage lawmakers to make sure CHIP funding is renewed and not “wait and see what happens” when the program is gone.
By most measures, West Virginia’s economy has finally recovered from the recession. Real GDP has grown by more than nine percent since bottoming out in 2009, the unemployment rate has been steadily declining, and the state finally has as many workers as it did before the recession.
But while the economy as a whole has been improving, the gains haven’t been shared by all West Virginians, particularly the state’s poorest citizens. According to data released this week from the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia’s poverty rate has continued to remain above its pre-recession levels.
West Virginia’s poverty rate grew during the recession, from 16.9% in 2007 to 18.1% in 2010. Since then the rate has fluctuated some, but none of the changes has been statistically significant, meaning that after rising during the recession, the state’s poverty rate has been essentially unchanged.
The same is true for the state’s child poverty rate. The state’s child poverty rate jumped up from 22.1% in 2007 to 25% in 2010, and has yet to come back down. Once again, fluctuations in the state’s child poverty rate have not been statistically significant.
Poverty among children under the age of five has not followed the same pattern as overall child poverty. The young child poverty rate was essentially flat throughout the recession, with none of the fluctuations in the rate being statistically significant. Then, in 2013, the poverty rate for children under five jumped from 28.3% to 33.2%. However, it should be noted that the children under five poverty rate has a large margin of error, particularly with one year of data. To really get a firm grip on what is happening with child poverty, we may need to wait for the three- or five-year data.
Senior poverty also diverged from the overall poverty trend. While overall poverty increased, senior poverty actually fell between 2008 and 2011, from 11.0% to 9.4%. It has since remained essentially flat, with the year-to-year fluctuations not statistically significant.
Finally, in addition to the poverty data, the ACS release also has some data on incomes in West Virginia. One important income data point that can be used to measure the state’s economic health is median household income. 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.
Adjusting for inflation, West Virginia’s median household income fell during the recession, from $41,638 in 2007 to $39,844 in 2011. It had recovered to $41,253 in 2013, but is still below its pre-recession level. Real median household income has also underperformed compared to Real GDP growth, suggesting that not only is the state’s recent economic growth not reaching the poor, its not doing a good job of reaching the middle class either.
The ACS data not only showed that the state’s economic growth isn’t reaching the poor and middle class, they also showed the growth is benefiting the wealthy. The ACS also measures the state’s Gini Index, a measure of the distribution of income in a region. The higher the score on the Gini index, the greater the income inequality. A score of 1 means that all the income in a region is held by a single person, and a score of zero means that all income is held equally among the population.
West Virginia’s Gini Index has grown since the recession, from 0.454 in 2007 to 0.465 in 2013, showing that most of West Virginia’s income growth has gone the those at the top of the income distribution.
So not only did this week’s poverty data show that thousands of West Virginians are still struggling to get by, even as the state’s economy grows, but they are seeing a smaller share of the benefits of their hard work.
Our Children Our Future Policy Symposium Brings Together Hundreds from Across the State
The WVCBP was proud to be a partner in the Our Children Our Future Policy Symposium this past week in Charleston. Hundreds of leaders and activists from social advocacy organizations, faith-based groups, government agencies, schools and universities, and families and young people gathered to discuss a wide variety of policy proposals all aimed to tackle poverty in West Virginia.
In just two years, the Our Children Our Future campaign has had 14 victories including an increase in the minimum wage, restoration of budget funding to help working families, and the creation of the WV Future Fund.
As the 2015 Legislative Session approaches, the WVCBP will work closely on two new initiatives in particular – the creation of Voluntary Employment Retirement Accounts (VERA) and a paid sick days policy for West Virginia workers.
Next up for the OCOF campaign is a series of Fall Forums across the state. To learn more, email Stephen Smith with the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.
If you weren’t able to attend, check out this video of Day 2 of the Symposium as youth and parents testified before the Joint Committee on Children and Families.
Coal in Ground Could Become a Stranded Asset
To tackle climate change and reduce our carbon emissions, some fossil fuels will be left where they are, becoming a “stranded asset.” In an interesting article forwarded to us by Betty Rivard, this New York Times article explains the concept and its far-reaching implications.
Preview on New Poverty Data
Check out this space next week as we look at newly released census numbers on poverty and inequality and how West Virginia is faring.
Here’s a preview from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
- As in Other Recent Recoveries, Poverty Has Been Slow to Improve
- Austerity Policies Likely Hampered Progress Against Poverty in 2013
- Unequal Wage Growth Also Slowed Progress
- Income Inequality at Record-High Level in 2012
- Most Poverty Figures Released on Tuesday Won’t Reflect Non-Cash Benefits
- Census Will Show Anti-Poverty Impact of Some Cash and Non-Cash Benefits
Increase in Minimum Wage Helps Working Families
Fast-food workers calling for a higher wage brought the minimum wage debate back into the headlines this week. During the 2014 Legislative Session, West Virginia lawmakers approved a $1.50 an hour raise phased in over two years but there is a national movement to increase it to $10.10 an hour. WVCBP Fiscal Policy Analyst Sean O’Leary was on Hoppy Kercheval’s radio show yesterday to discuss the merits of a minimum wage hike and just who would be affected. And in his blog post today he further refutes some of the misconceptions of the impacts of a minimum wage hike.
Bringing the Tobacco Tax Up-to-Date Would Decrease Smoking Rates
The decision by drug store giant CVS to remove tobacco products from its shelves was welcomed this week by health professionals in West Virginia. To truly tackle the state’s high smoking rate, however, it’s time to increase its tobacco tax which, at just 55-cents a pack, is the 43rd lowest in the nation. WVCBP Health Policy Analyst Erin Snyder was quoted in this Charleston Gazette article on the announcement from CVS and the issues it raises.
West Virginia Women Making Less Now than in 2010
A report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research out this week ranks West Virginia last in the nation for women in employment and earnings. West Virginia and Alabama were the only states receiving an F grade in the report and, in West Virginia women have actually lost ground over the past four years. Read more in today’s Charleston Gazette.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to discuss efforts to raise the minimum wage with Hoppy Kercheval on his Talkline show. Today, Hoppy followed up with this commentary, arguing that raising the minimum wage is bad economics because it wouldn’t actually help the working poor. But, the facts that Hoppy cites in his commentary don’t really support that argument.
Hoppy points to research from economist David Neumark, who says that 29% of the benefits of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 would go to families with incomes at least three times the poverty level (if David Neumark sounds familiar, he’s the economist whose work on the employment effects of the minimum wage isn’t terribly objective).
Neumark’s work largely agrees with the findings of the Congressional Budget Office, who said that raising the minimum wage would increase income by $5 billion for families below poverty, $12 billion for families between one and three times the poverty level, and $2 billion for families between three and six times the poverty level. So some of the benefits would go to families who aren’t desperately poor. But rephrase Neumark’s and the CBO’s findings, and they don’t sound all that bad: over 70% of the benefits would go to families below three times the poverty threshold. Not to mention that the CBO also found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10/hour would lift 900,000 people out of poverty, reducing poverty by 2 percent.
It’s also worth mentioning that three times the poverty level still isn’t exactly living the high life. In 2012, three times the poverty threshold for a family of four was $70,476. That’s lower than the median four-person family income of $76,049. So, one could say that in addition to 70% of the benefits of raising the minimum wage flowing to poor families, most of the remainder is helping out the middle class, which I’m sure we all agree could use it. Doesn’t sound like “bad economics” to me.
We already know the demographics of who benefits from the increase in West Virginia’s minimum wage, and by-and-large it’s low-income workers supporting their families. An increase to $10.10 doesn’t change much. The average family income of a worker who earns less than $10.10/hour in West Virginia is less than $35,000. When you talk about raising the minimum wage, you’re talking about helping low-income families.
Finally, Hoppy is right that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a very effective tool for fighting poverty and helping low-income families. But for a commentary all about how the EITC is preferable to minimum wage because it targets low-income families better, he’s been strangely silent on recent changes to the Child Tax Credit (CTC), which is closely related to the EITC. A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and supported by Rep’s Capito and McKinley increased the maximum earnings level of the credit, while letting the reduced earnings minimum expire. In effect, the House voted to reduce the CTC for low-wage workers and increase it for high-wage workers.
While a single parent earning the minimum wage, working full time would no longer be eligible for the credit, couples making between $150,000 and $205,000 with two children would become newly eligible. The disproportionate changes to the CTC are far more egregious than the fraction of low-wage workers working in high-income families who benefit from a minimum wage increase. But it didn’t create much outcry from the likes of David Neumark and Hoppy Kercheval. Maybe because tax forms are dull and complicated and the minimum wage debate has a sexier ring to it.
Decline of Coal in National Headlines
This week the Washington Post featured two articles on the downturn of West Virginia’s coal economy. With 10,000 miners losing their jobs in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky in the past two-and-a-half years, and the surge in national gas production, the coal industry’s most recent bust might be longer lasting, if not permanent. Read more here. The question remains, what will policymakers do to prepare West Virginia for an economic transition?
With its high rate of poverty, could it be that West Virginia suffers from a “resource curse”? It’s an economic theory that areas rich in natural resources can have a population that suffers economic struggles, an idea that seems to describe southern West Virginia. Read more.
Last Chance to Register
Registration for The Our Children Our Future Policy Symposium closes on September 2 so if you have not yet reserved your spot, today is the day! The event continues to grow as the date nears, with more speakers, including several candidates for the event on Tuesday night, September 9.
Take a minute and register today so your space is reserved!
“My grandfather once told me there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to be in the first group; there was much less competition.” Indira Gandhi
“Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below.” Roger Baldwin
Welcome to Erin Snyder!
The WVCBP welcomed Erin Snyder this week as our new Health Policy Analyst. Erin is a graduate of West Virginia State University has a J.D. from Charlotte School of Law, where she focused on health law. She most recently has worked with Families USA on national health policies and will work on our Paid Sick Days campaign and other health policy issues. You can contact Erin via email or Twitter @WVCBPErinSnyder.
Another Addition to the WVCBP Family
This week WVCBP Executive Director Ted Boettner and Rebecca Roth welcomed their second child, Sid Boettner, into the world. Congratulations to them and Sid’s big sister, Lucy!
Have You Registered Yet?
The Our Children Our Future Policy Symposium is right around the corner and registration is filling up quickly. We are excited about the variety of break-out sessions available for people to attend. Take a minute and register today so your space is reserved!
What’s the Future of Southern West Virginia’s Coal Mining Jobs?
West Virginia Public Broadcasting ran this interesting piece on the future of southern West Virginia’s coal economy. It featured a WVCBP analysis of the loss of coal jobs in Boone County where, in the last two years, one-fifth of the labor force has lost a coal mining job.
The Five Biggest Lies About Obamacare
What are the impacts of the Affordable Care Act now that the law has been implemented? Here’s a good look back at the past year, with a nod to research from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Register Today to Hold Your Seat at Next Month’s Policy Symposium!
Registration is open for next month’s Our Children Our Future Policy Symposium at the state Capitol in Charleston. Day #1 is September 9 the the Culture Center with a wide variety of policy sessions. On Day #2 we present those policy ideas to legislators at an interim meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Children and Families. Also on Day #2 we will gather in the House Chamber to learn how to hold a Fall Forum in your community.
But we need you to register today!
Another Great September Event: Strengthening Families in West Virginia Conference
Next month come out to learn more about empowering fathers and families for the future at KISRA’s Strengthening Families Conference on September 25 from 8:00AM – 4:30 PM at the Charleston Marriott. Read the conference schedule here.
Layoffs Don’t Necessarily Mean Fewer Jobs
With newspaper headlines dominated by announcements of mine closures and layoffs, it’s important to distinguish between layoff and actual employment loss. Since 2009, West Virginia has averaged about 2,295 coal job separations per quarter, meaning every three months 2,295 coal miners are either laid off, retire, quit or are fired. But during that same time period, West Virginia’s coal industry averaged 2,292 hires per quarter.
Interesting note: southern West Virginia is outpaced by 10 other regions in terms of coal productivity, most notably northern West Virginia. Read much more in Sean’s blog post.
Happy Birthday, Medicare!
As Medicare celebrates its 49th birthday, there is good news about the program’s future as the growth of health care costs slows. Medicare covers 52 million people in the United States and provides benefits to one in five West Virginians. Without it, even more West Virginians would be living in poverty. Read more here.
West Virginia Wives Earning the Majority of Household Income
A new study out last week shows that West Virginia has the largest percentage of wives earning the majority of their households’ incomes. Whether it’s the recession, a loss of jobs traditionally held by men, or other factors, West Virginia wives are bringing in over half of their families’ incomes, second only to Florida. Read more in the Charleston Gazette and Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram.
West Virginia’s coal-mining families were given a scare last month when Alpha Natural Resources issued a WARN notice, notifying over 1,100 employees at 11 mining operations of potential layoffs. While those layoffs are projected to take place by October, don’t expect the number of coal jobs to fall by 1,100 that month. That’s because layoffs and job losses are measuring two separate things.
Layoffs and mine closures are a fact of life in a boom and bust industry like coal, but so are recalls and hires. While market conditions may make some older mines with thinner seams uneconomical to operate, others that promise more productivity are opened up. And as miners are laid off at some mines, miners are hired at others. For example, while Alpha closes mines and lays off miners, Keystone Industries is fighting to start a new mine adjacent to Kanawha State Forest near Charleston, WV.
So 1,100 layoffs doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be 1,100 fewer coal jobs in the state. Since 2009, West Virginia has averaged about 2,295 coal job separations per quarter, meaning every three months 2,295 coal miners are either laid off, retire, quit or are fired. But during that same time period, West Virginia’s coal industry averaged 2,292 hires per quarter.
The nature of the industry isn’t just one of high turnover, but of miners transitioning from older, less productive mines to newer more profitable mines, even as they’re laid off in between.
That’s not to say that the coal industry isn’t facing some real problems. Separations have begun to outpace hires in recent quarters, and, as of the end of 2013-Q2, total coal mining employment was down 1,725 from 2009-Q1 (but still 2,629 jobs above its recent low in 2009-Q4). Competition from natural gas isn’t going away anytime soon, and while proposed EPA regulations aren’t the primary source of West Virginia’s coal problems, they aren’t helping either. Plus, those more productive mines are more and more likely to be found outside of West Virginia. Of the top 10 coal producing states, southern West Virginia has the second lowest level of productivity.
Nevertheless, its important to make a distinction between layoffs and actual employment loss in an industry, particularly one structured like coal.
Greater Fiscal Responsibility is Possible
West Virginia should make improvements to the way it estimates revenues in order to create a more fiscally responsible budget, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
In the report’s evaluation of how states come up with a revenue estimate for the annual budget, West Virginia scored only a two on a scale of zero to five due to its failure to employ basic best practices that create strong, reliable revenue estimates to guide state spending.
West Virginia’s process for estimating revenues is tilted too far toward the Executive Branch. Unlike many states, the West Virginia legislature does not work with the executive branch to produce a consensus forecast. When one branch is excluded from this process key decision makers are more likely to dismiss or dispute the revenue estimates.
More transparency would go a long way to reforming this process. Creating of an independent Legislative Fiscal Office would provide nonpartisan oversight of the state’s budget and create greater balance in the decision-making process. This office could also provide more accurate fiscal notes and estimates of the costs of proposed legislation.
Have You Registered for Next Month’s Policy Symposium?
Want to learn more about energy-efficient, affordable housing? Do you want to see West Virginia reform its juvenile justice system? There’s something of interest for everyone at the Our Children Our Future Policy Symposium taking place at the state Capitol on September 9 and 10. A full list of sessions is available here.
For a great recap on why West Virginia is long past due bringing needed reforms to how it incarcerates its young people, read today’s oped in the Charleston Gazette by former WVCBP board member Rick Wilson.
Last week’s headlines were dominated by reactions to new EPA regulations and their potential impact to coal production and employment. Today’s Charleston Gazette editorial page calls for proactive leadership on helping southern West Virginia as coal production sharply declines. WVCBP Executive Director Ted Boettner’s (AKA Charleston strategist) ideas of creating a G.I. Bill for displaced coal miners and putting miners to work reclaiming abandoned mine sites are part of the Gazette’s recommendations for transition.
Support an Increase to the Tobacco Tax
West Virginia taxes cigarettes at a rate of just 55-cents a pack, well below the national average. Increasing the tobacco tax would cut smoking rates, improve health, reduce medical costs, and stabilize the state budget. Tell Governor Tomblin that you support an increase to the tobacco tax with this quick action.