For all the Republican back-slapping in Charleston about how much they've done for the state since assuming the majority, the jobs forecast for West Virginia is still somewhat unsettled. According to a 24/7 Wall Street study, the state ranks 47th in the nation in overall business climate.
Looking at figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state's labor force participation rate remains the lowest in the country at just over 53 percent. Since the late 1970s, as far back as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data goes, the state’s rate has remained below 58 percent.
West Virginia has to grapple with a higher-than-average elderly population, a high percentage of people on work disability, and poor overall health among the population (Smoking and obesity are both rampant).
Dependence on coal as an employer is still a probable exercise in futility long-term. Even with Trump administration initiatives to boost domestic coal production, West Virginia had a 2017 net gain of less than 1,500 jobs in the coal industry. For all the conservative cheering about the end of the war on coal supposedly waged by the Obama administration, the market for coal will continue to erode.
The outlook is not all gloom and doom. Projected increases in natural gas demand and regional downstream processing facilities should contribute to employment growth. Manufacturing in the state is poised for a boom, with new facilities opening and existing plants expanding their operations.
It's probably too early to tout a Renaissance in West Virginia manufacturing, but to read of this upswing is encouraging. These jobs -- and jobs in technology -- are the ones that pay workers well and offer benefits... positions that West Virginians can build their futures on.
One problem with this hoped-for spike in manufacturing is that by and large, West Virginia's long-struggling coalfield counties in the north and south are left out, since most of this growth is taking place in the panhandles and central part of the state.
Congressional Republicans and the Justice Administration might be blowing their own horns prematurely. There has certainly been some good economic news here and there, but much still remains to be done.
The coalfield counties in particular deserve more love from Charleston. These counties suffer from lack of economic diversification because coal has traditionally been the primary employer. These areas sorely need assistance in transitioning away from a coal-based economic model.
Good economic news from the panhandles and central area of the state is indeed reason for celebration -- but until all of West Virginia can enjoy growth and prosperity, the celebration should be muted.