Budget Beat – August 15, 2014

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!

Our Children Our Future with Children Silhouette

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.

When is a Coal Layoff a Coal Job Loss?

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. 

coal hires

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.

Budget Beat – August 8, 2014

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.

PLS-00010156-001West 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.

Register today!

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.

capitol domeMore on Coal’s Future

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.

Budget Beat – August 1, 2014

Ways to Help West Virginia’s Working Families

Couldn’t make it to last month’s policy workshops? Find out more about two of our policy priorities on our website where we’ve posted our presentations from the Clarksburg and Hurricane events.

Paid Sick Days
Many low-wage workers have to choose between going to work when they are sick or losing a day’s pay. Keeping Families Healthy: West Virginia Earned Sick Days and Family Medical Leave explains how providing paid days off benefits both employees and employers. The WVCBP, WV FREE and SEIU will take this issue to next month’s Policy Symposium.

Another workplace benefit is Voluntary Employee Retirement Accounts (VERA). Helping employers provide a retirement plan for their employees would help many West Virginia workers save for the future. Read more in Stemming the Retirement Crisis.

Learn more about these policy ideas and many more at the 2014 Policy Symposium on September 9 and 10. Registration is now open. The Our Children Our Future Policy Workshops and Symposium is supported by local and regional sponsorships, the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, the West Virginia Community HUB and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Get to Know Dr. Michelle Foster, KISRA CEO and WVCBP Board Member

WVCBP board member Dr. Michelle Foster was featured in this week’s Innerviews in the Charleston Gazette. We are proud to have Michelle on our board and are in awe over all the great work she is doing with KISRA.

Thanks, Michelle!

Michelle's Bio Photo

WVCBP in the News

WVCBP Executive Director Ted Boettner provided insight on two issues making the headlines this week. Today’s front page of the Charleston Gazette was all about what new EPA regulations would mean for the state’s coal industry. Ted and others pointed out that focusing solely on these regulations denies the broader reality of why coal is declining in southern West Virginia.

Bargain stores are successful in West Virginia and provide a place for low-income families to make their dollar go farther. Ted explains in this week’s Charleston Gazette that cheap choices are not always healthy ones for poor families struggling to make ends meet.

Moving Forward

Yesterday was our last day with WVCBP Health Policy Analyst Brandon Merritt and Outreach Coordinator Alyson Clements. Brandon will start medical school very soon and Alyson has moved to Washington DC to join her husband who began working there this spring. Best luck to them both! They will be missed!

Brandon going away party

Budget Beat – July 25, 2014

Our Children Our Future Policy Workshops Joining All Corners of the State

policy workshop logo

This month people from across the state who want to see policy change have come together in Lewisburg, Clarksburg and Hurricane. There is one more Our Children Our Future Policy workshop to go, next week in Martinsburg. With 23 ideas for positive change up for discussion, and multiple policy wins under our belt, there is a lot of momentum building as we head toward the 2014 Policy Symposium on September 9 and 10.

leg panel policy workshop 7.24.14

Legislative and Leadership Panel at the Our Children Our Future Policy Workshop in Hurricane on July 24, 2014. Photo by Sean O’Leary.

Walk-ups are welcome at next week’s policy workshop in Martinsburg on July 29. Read more about the recent workshops here and here.

Registration is now open for the 2014 Policy Symposium September 9 and 10 in Charleston. The Our Children Our Future Policy Workshops and Symposium are supported by local and regional sponsorships, the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, the West Virginia Community HUB and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Voluntary Employee Retirement Accounts Would Help Workers Save for the Future

With one of the nation’s oldest populations, West Virginia has many residents quickly approaching retirement. Unfortunately, many of them are not prepared financially. One reason is that they lack access to a retirement plan at work that would make it easier for them to save for the future. The WVCBP, along with the WV-AARP and other coalition partners, will work during the next legislative session to make Voluntary Retirement Accounts (VERA) a reality.

VERA infographic

Obamacare Bringing Refunds to West Virginia

West Virginians will receive almost $1 million in refunds from health insurance companies thanks to the Affordable Care Act. The companies being required to make the refunds did not spend 80% of health care premiums directly on health care, as required under the law, so are now required to refund it to their customers. Read more in today’s Charleston Gazette.

Budget Beat – July 11, 2014

Here’s Why You Want to Be a Part of This Month’s Our Children Our Future Policy Workshops

policy workshop logo

1. This cool three-minute video. Check it out, you’ll feel inspired.

2. You care about the future of West Virginia.

And part of that means taking care of the state’s workers. We can do a better job at that by passing legislation to create a paid sick days and family leave policy. This is good for workers and their employers.

We can also help those same workers prepare for retirement with Voluntary Retirement Accounts (VERA).

Lack of retirement assets is one of the leading causes of poverty among the elderly. Learn more about how Voluntary Retirement Accounts can prevent this on July 22 at the Northern Regional Workshop, Gaston Caperton Center, Clarksburg, WV.

Every day workers are faced with the impossible choice of going to work sick or staying home, losing pay and risking job loss. Just three and a half days of missed work because of illness is equivalent to an entire month’s groceries for the average family. Find out how we can make paid sick days and family leave the law in West Virginia on July 24 at the Central Regional Workshop, St. Timothy in the Valley, Hurricane, WV.

There is a wide variety of workshops taking place not only in Clarksburg and Hurricane but also in Lewisburg and Martinsburg.

Help bring an end to child poverty in West Virginia. Need more reasons? Check out this week’s editorial in the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram.

Our Children Our Future with Children Silhouette

Why is West Virginia GDP Up and Employment Down? Fracking?

Workforce West Virginia recently released 2013 data on employment and wages that show West Virginia has about 7,000 fewer jobs (on average) in 2013 than it did in 2012. In contrast, two weeks ago the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released state data for real Gross Domestic Product growth that showed West Virginia’s economy grew by 5.1 percent from 2012 to 2013 (after adjusting for inflation), which was higher than all but two states. 

How can West Virginia’s economy be growing when jobs are declining? Let’s take a closer look to find out why.

First, let’s look at West Virginia real GDP growth compared to job growth provided by the Quarterly Census of Wages and Employment (which included workers that are covered by unemployment insurance) that is released by Workforce West Virginia. As you can see in these two charts, the relationship between the growth of the economy (real GDP) and jobs has been tenuous over the last several years. While real GDP grew by 16.2 percent since 2002, job growth was an anemic three percent.

real gdp vs job 1

real gdp job 2

The gap in growth in 2012-2013 was especially large, with real GDP growing 5.1 percent while job growth was down one percent. To help explain this disparity, it important to first look at why real GDP grew in the first place. As this next chart shows, it is overwhelmingly due to the the mining sector, which is primarily the coal and natural gas industries. Without this growth of $3.3 billion (40 percent), West Virginia would have experienced negative real GDP growth from 2012 to 2013. 

mining real gdp

The mining sector is also becoming a much larger piece of the state’s economy, accounting for nearly 17.8 percent of the state’s GDP compared to just 6.5 percent in 2002. The recent uptick in the mining sector is due to the boom in shale gas extraction in the north-central part of the state. Meanwhile, West Virginia coal production has declined over the last several years and so has its share of the economy.

Interestingly, the huge jump in mining GDP was not the product of higher wages or employment. Total mining wages declined slightly from $2.6 billion in 2012 to $2.5 billion in 2013 and total mining employment fell by 1,830 (natural gas gained 567 jobs, but looking more broadly at other natural gas sectors like pipeline construction and transportation, distribution, and field machinery, it fell about 173 jobs).

There could be several reasons for the dramatic one-year change in mining real GDP. It could be that the mining real GDP data are wrong, which is always subject to revisions over time, or that the new and more comprehensive revisions of state GDP captured something new in 2013. Or it could be that there was a glut in natural gas storage in the state and that it was finally sold in 2013 at a higher price that boosted productivity and GDP. Another thing to keep in mind is that the natural gas industry is very capital intensive, meaning that it relies less on workers and more on machinery and equipment to produce its value-added product.

While we cannot say with certainty why mining GDP is growing rapidly at the same time wages and employment are stagnating, we can say that it has not translated into broader economic growth in the state in 2013. We can also say that the link between GDP growth and wage growth is not as strong as it used to be. As the chart below shows, wages used to make up over 50 percent of West Virginia’s GDP. Today, they are only 40 percent. There has also been a similar decline in total compensation, which includes pensions, health care, social insurance, and profit-sharing. This means that workers are not benefiting from productivity growth and that more money is flowing to the top via profits and capital income.

Over the last several years, West Virginia has exacerbated this problem by cutting corporate taxes and gutting its estate tax while investing less in higher education and other budget priorities. Reversing this trend in inequality and boosting quality job growth will require policy action at both the federal and state level.

gdp wages and comp

Budget Beat – June 27, 2014

Our Children Our Future Policy Workshops Are Just Around the Corner

No matter where you live in West Virginia there is an opportunity for you to get involved in the Our Children Our Future campaign to help bring an end to child poverty.

Join us for a day-long training to learn how to make change in your community and throughout the state through policy advocacy, healthy lifestyles/Try This! promotion, and voter education and turnout.

The Our Children, Our Future Campaign has built a statewide campaign to win 12 policy victories in the past 20 months through working with our partners across the state to identify and promote state policy opportunities that will improve communities and help us move toward our goal of ending child poverty in West Virginia.

The Regional Policy Workshops are where community leaders from across the state propose policy changes to work on over the coming year – and where you can get connected with the issues that most interest you.

Click on the links below to see the wide variety of agenda items. Topics include workplace bullying, energy-efficient affordable housing, and the WV Healthy Families Act: Paid Sick Days & Family Leave and much, much more.

July 17: Southern Regional Workshop, WV School of Osteopathic Medicine, Alumni Center, Lewisburg, WV

July 22: Northern Regional Workshop, Gaston Caperton Center, Clarksburg, WV

July 24: Central Regional Workshop, St. Timothy in the Valley, Hurricane, WV

July 29: Eastern Regional Workshop, Blue Ridge Community/Technical Center Martinsburg, WV
Our Children Our Future with Children Silhouette

Fallout Continues from Higher Education Cuts

Last week the Higher Education Policy Commission spoke out about how the pattern of budget cuts and tuition hikes needs to end if low-income students and their families are to afford college. Citing the WVCBP’s analysis of tax cuts and their effect on the state budget, the Clarksburg Exponent Telegram ran this story on how tuition hikes will disproportionately impact those already struggling to pay for a college degree.

Next Tuesday, free movie:

How can white people use their privilege to take a stand against racism? Come and watch “Cracking the Codes: the System of Racial Inequality” on Tuesday, July 8 at 2:30PM at Temple Israel on 2312 Kanawha Blvd East. See a film clip.

Job Opportunity

Coalition partners are exploring the possibility of forming a new 501-c-4 advocacy organization for West Virginia. This group would work to increase voter turnout in key races, educate West Virginians about issues of child and family poverty, and build a statewide membership base. If you know someone who might be interested in leading such an organization, please refer them to Stephen Smith as soon as possible. The ideal candidate would have electoral organizing experience and the skills (fundraising, administration) to lead an organization with 5-10 paid canvassers. (Salary commensurate with experience, $35-55k/year).

Budget Beat – June 20, 2014

West Virginia Birthday Wishes:

birthday cake

Making higher education an affordable possibility for the state’s young people:

There was disappointing news for college graduates last week as a measure aimed to allow them to refinance their college loan debt at today’s lower interest rates was blocked in the U.S. Senate.

West Virginia’s college grads average $25,000 in student loan debt for a four-year degree, above the national average. Sadly, the Mountain State ranks highest in delinquency on those loans.

And, with the cost of attending West Virginia’s colleges and universities continuing to rise, the problem is likely to get worse. Restoring budget cuts to the state’s colleges and universities, and making college affordable, will help keep West Virginia’s talented young people here at home.

Read more from WV Metro News.

Expanding access to affordable health care/curbing tobacco use:

Expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act in West Virginia was a huge step in providing health care to the state’s residents. Another way is to provide more choices in the state’s health insurance marketplace. Just announced is the addition of the West Virginia Health Care Cooperative, a spin-off from Kentucky’s marketplace, that will give those shopping for coverage more competition and possibly lower health care premiums starting in 2015. Read more in this week’s Charleston Gazette.

Despite a national downward trend, West Virginia’s teens continue to use tobacco products at a high rate. Brandon’s blog post highlights the numbers and the need to educate our young people, as well as raise the tobacco tax, both in hopes of reversing these statistics.

Providing a greater variety of employment opportunities:

West Virginia, like Kentucky and Wyoming, has historically had a fairly narrowly defined way to grow its economy – expand development of it natural resources to create for economic growth. These three states fall among the bottom five in terms of economic diversification according to the 2014 State New Economy Index. Read more in this week’s Charleston Gazette.

A more diversified economy, funding for higher education, and affordable health care will all help keep working families in West Virginia.

In case you missed it, Ted had a great op-ed recently which talked about the state’s, and the nation’s, continuing struggle with the growth of income inequality.

Events like these:

Our Children Our Future Policy Workshops: Registration is now open for the Our Children Our Future upcoming regional policy workshops. Each policy workshop will allow campaign partners the opportunity to participate in trainings on voter registration, local policy change,and policy advocacy trainings. Local champions, consisting of community members and legislators, will participate in a panel discussing how to effectively advocate for our children and families.

July 17: Southern Regional Workshop, WV School of Osteopathic Medicine, Alumni Center, Lewisburg, WV
July 22: Northern Regional Workshop, Gaston Caperton Center, Clarksburg, WV
July 24: Central Regional Workshop, St. Timothy in the Valley, Hurricane, WV
July 29: Eastern Regional Workshop, Blue Ridge Community/Technical Center Martinsburg, WV

Our Children Our Future with Children Silhouette

Homebuyer Workshops: On June 24 and July 29, KISRA will sponsor workshops geared toward turning renters to homeowners. They are especially aimed at low- and moderate-income families. Learn more here.

Free movie: How can white people use their privilege to take a stand against racism? Come and watch “Cracking the Codes: the System of Racial Inequality” on Tuesday, July 8 at 2:30PM at Temple Israel on 2312 Kanawha Blvd East. See a film clip.

Strengthening Families in West Virginia Conference: On September 25, KISRA will sponsor an all-day conference at the Charleston Marriott Town Center on Empowering Fathers and Families for the Future. Registration information is available here.

West Virginia Teens: Continuing High Rate of Tobacco Use, Other Unhealthy Behaviors

Last week, the CDC released new data from its biennial Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS).  The YRBSS surveys thousands of middle and high school aged youth across the country, questioning them about a number of health and behavioral risk factors, everything from diet to alcohol use to sexual activity.  The survey is large enough to give a clear picture of behavior among youth across the country and how it varies by state and region.

The new data provide some interesting insight into the behavior of West Virginia youth and how they compare to their national counterparts. While there are certainly some promising trends in West Virginia, such as the plummeting use of meth (surprising, right?), there are also a number of very worrisome results of which we must be aware.

Tobacco use is overwhelmingly the factor that jumps out the most. While high school age smoking has dropped dramatically in West Virginia and across the country since the early 1990s, West Virginia remains significantly behind the rest of the country in both the rate of declining use and the number of teens who currently smoke.

Source: CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 1993-2013 Results

Source: WVCBP analysis of CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, West Virginia 1993-2013 Results

The figure above shows the trends of high school age youth who are current smokers since 2009.  As you can see, nationally this rate has declined from 19.5 percent of high schoolers to 15.7 percent, a drop of nearly 20 percent.  In West Virginia however, the drop has not been nearly so steep and, in fact, has ticked up slightly since the last survey in 2011. At 19.6 percent, West Virginia high schoolers are 25 percent more likely to smoke than their peers across the country.

Another factor where West Virginia’s youth does poorly is in soda consumption. Regular soft drink consumption is known to increase the risk for a number of health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and dental cavities. West Virginia youth drink much more soda than American youth on the whole. High schoolers here are 40 percent more likely to drink at least one soda per day and 67 percent more likely to drink three or more sodas per day.  The figure below highlights these differences:

Source: WVCBP analysis of CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, West Virginia 1993-2013 Results

Source: WVCBP analysis of CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, West Virginia 1993-2013 Results

Other factors where West Virginia youth behaviors were significantly worse than the national average include being sexually active, not using a condom during most recent sexual intercourse, wearing a seat belt, and attending physical education classes in school. The table below lists every factor in which West Virginia’s youth reported unhealthier or riskier behaviors than their peers nationally:

Youth Risks 2

Source: CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, West Virginia 2013

On most other issues like alcohol use, illicit drug use, and diet, West Virginia’s youth fell around the national median. Of course, regardless if it’s about the same as the national rate, the fact that kids are still participating in many of these behaviors is something to worry about, such as the five percent of West Virginia high schoolers who have used cocaine.

Why does any of this matter?  Because we know that most health behaviors are established early in life and if we don’t get this ship turned around for our youth, then we’re going insane if we expect to have healthier adults.