A Look at the People, Industries, Places, and Policies Affected by Low-Wage Work in West Virginia
For Immediate Release Media Contact: Caitlin Cook, 304-720-8682
[Charleston, WV] – Poverty is a persistent problem in West Virginia, where tens of thousands of West Virginians live in poverty because their jobs do not pay a living wage. Read the full report.
This 10th annual State of Working West Virginia focuses on low-wage work, including demographics of those who do the work; the industries that employ them; geographic factors; the role of public programs supporting low-wage workers; and policy recommendations to improve economic well-being.
The report reveals the shifting role of low-wage work in the state's economy, now its main source of job growth, and a path no longer confined to young workers entering the workforce. The complete picture of West Virginia's economy shows growth in low-wage industries, while non-low wage industries decline, and wages stagnate for both.
"Low-wage work has a profound impact on West Virginia's economy, from the capabilities of workers to provide for their families, to their health and well-being, all the way to the state budget," said Sean O'Leary, Interim Executive Director for the West Virginia on Center on Budget and Policy. "As low-wage jobs become more prevalent in the state's economy, we must consider public policies that support these workers and their families, recognizing their importance to the state."
Twenty-three percent of the state's workforce is employed in low-wage jobs.
Forty-four percent of West Virginia's workers with less than a high school diploma earn low wages, while the rate of low-wage workers who possess a high school degree or some college is 28 percent.
Compared to the rest of the economy, employment in low-wage industries is growing very rapidly, by 14.5 percent since 2001. In comparison, employment in non-low wage industries declined by 2.8 percent, and overall employment has only grown by 0.1 percent.
Overall, real average wages in West Virginia have grown by 9.7 percent since 2001, and 11.8 percent in non-low wage industries. In contrast, average wages in the state's low-wage industries have only grown by 7.4 percent.
More than one-quarter of workers in low-wage jobs in West Virginia (25.3 percent) live in poverty, compared to just two percent of non-low wage workers.
Fifty-five percent of children live in a house with a low-wage worker.
Over half – 57.6 percent – of low-wage workers in West Virginia earn at or below the minimum wage.
A majority – 75.8 percent – of the state's low-wage workers (123,970 workers) would benefit directly from an increase in the state's minimum wage.
The vast majority – 77 percent – of the state's low-wage workers live in a county where housing is unaffordable for them.
No longer a stepping stone, low-wage jobs are becoming lifelong employment, while industries that provide low-wage jobs have become the state's dominant source of job growth.
A living wage for low-wage workers would strengthen West Virginia's economy, boost demand for goods and services provided by local businesses, and help increase the state's chronically low workforce participation rate.
The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy is a public policy research organization that is nonpartisan, nonprofit, and statewide. The Center focuses on how policy decisions affect all West Virginians, especially low- and moderate-income families.