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W.Va. poverty rate increases again

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W.Va. poverty rate increases again
By Daniel Tyson, Register-Herald Reporter

In August the federal government announced West Virginia has the lowest civilian workforce participation, on Tuesday it was learned the state has a 7.6 unemployment rate, the nation's highest.

Then on Thursday the bad economic news continued. A report shows nearly 20 percent of West Virginians live in poverty and more alarming a quarter of its children reside in homes earning about $24,000 annually.

However, the statistics is as bad for the Beckley Metro area, which encompasses the roughly 125,000 people living in Fayette and Raleigh counties. This area which has nearly a 13 percent poverty rate, compared to that statewide average of 18.3 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau's 2014 American Community Survey found.

The Census numbers shed a bright light on poverty in the Mountain State, which had the nation's ninth highest rate. Of the 1.8 million people in the state 380,000 residents lived below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.

West Virginia's child poverty rate in 2014 was 24.3 percent, a slight decrease from 2013. An estimated 89,528 children lived in poverty in 2014. West Virginia had the 13th highest child poverty rate among the 50 states.

Poverty is much worse for African Americans in West Virginia. The state's poverty rate for African Americans was 31.6 percent in 2014.

Seniors in West Virginia are less likely to be in poverty than the rest of the state. The state's senior poverty rate in 2014 was 9.3 percent, roughly half of the state's total poverty rate. An estimated 29,809 West Virginians over the age of 65 are living in poverty.

Poverty rates decrease for adults with higher levels of education. In 2014, the poverty rate for West Virginians with at least a bachelor's degree was 5.5 percent, while it was 14.9 percent for those with just a high school diploma. Poverty was highest among those who did not graduate from high school, at 30.3 percent.

Women in West Virginia face higher poverty rates than men. In 2014, West Virginia's poverty rate for women was 19.7 percent, compared to 16.8 percent for men.

Unemployed West Virginians are five times more likely to be living in poverty as employed West Virginians. In 2014 the poverty rate for employed West Virginians was 8.3 percent, while it was 38.8 percent for the unemployed.

West Virginia's median household income was an estimated $41,059 in 2014. 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. West Virginia's median household income is still below its pre-recession peak. In 2014, West Virginia has the 2nd lowest median household income among the 50 states.

The Medium household income in the Beckley Metro area was $39,498 in 2014.  The typical U.S. household pulls in $51,371 per year.

If there is a question on how to decrease poverty in the state, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy believes the answer is establish a state earned income tax credit.

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, The Center on Budget and Policy explains in a position paper. This will help build a more secure future for these families - including 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, the paper continues.

"A state earned income tax credit would help low-wage earners stay on the job, allowing them to build a more secure future, while helping to lift those struggling families out of poverty," said Sean O'Leary, policy analyst for the Center.

A state earned income tax credit, set at 15 percent 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, according to the Center.

A call to Brian Dayton, communication manager at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, went unanswered.