This edition of The State of Working West Virginia is the sixth of its kind. Each year since 2008 this report has examined the numbers and trends that tell the story of how the people who keep our state moving are faring. While each year’s report has a slightly different focus, one constant theme is the need to ask this simple question: what about the people who do the work?
It is not hard to find stories in the media about the dire effects of West Virginia’s business or judicial climate but much rarer is consideration given to the climate for those who produce and provide the necessary goods and services that make modern life possible. Yet, as a song inspired by struggling West Virginia coal miners a century ago observes, “without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.”
We hear much today about makers, takers and job creators, but this report examines the evidence and makes the case that the basis of a strong economy and a vibrant society is a healthy middle class. It also recommends policies intended to build the middle class. In this case, however, it may be helpful to look at the past as the state prepares to move forward.
The theme of this year’s report is Weirton Steel to Wal-Mart, signifying the vast economic transition that took place in recent decades as good jobs in manufacturing and mining gave way to lower wage, and lower- or no-benefit jobs in the service sector. The intent is neither to praise the one nor condemn the other. Rather, it is to examine the difficult road West Virginia workers have traveled and suggest ways of moving to a brighter future.