Tom Crouser: 2010s a mixed-bag for West Virginia (Opinion)

The 2010s come to an end tonight. They began amid a global financial crisis and international recession and they end with, “Well, we made it.” Not all the data is in yet, but here’s my review of West Virginia’s past decade. Let’s dig in.

There are fewer of us in West Virginian, but more than I thought. West Virginia’s population is down from 2010’s 1.8255 million to 1.8058 million in 2018, about a 1 percent drop. Growth in the Eastern Panhandle probably made up for decreases elsewhere. But that’s not the real story. The real story is that America grew.

America’s population was up 5.7 percent from 309.34 million (2010) to 327.17 (2018). Had West Virginia grown the same, we’d be at 1.9307 million now.

On a positive note, we’re no longer the oldest state on average. Nope. But it’s not because we’re suddenly younger. In fact, we’re older. It’s just that Maine and Vermont shot past us in the old age department, continuing a trend they started in the 2000s.

In 1990, 2000 and 2010, West Virginia and Florida had the highest median age among states. Median is the number where 50 percent is above and 50 percent below. In 1990, our median age was 35.3, and then 38.9 years in 1999. In 2010, we advanced to a median of 41.3 years.

And in 2019, it’s estimated our median age is 41.9 years. Of course, that’s still old enough to make our median population third-oldest among the states. So, it’s like going to our class reunion and finding others have finally gained more weight than us, although we’re still gaining.

As for our economy, West Virginia grew from a nominal (non-inflation adjusted) Gross Domestic Product (total of goods and services produced within the state) of $65.27 billion in 2010 to $77.44 billion (2018) or 18.6 percent according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

In comparison, the United States grew from $14.96 trillion in 2010 to $19.39 trillion in 2017, an overall 29.6 percent gain in one less year. So, we grew, but not as much as our siblings.

According to the US Census American Community Survey, the median household income in West Virginia for 2017 was $43,469, versus $43,061 in 2010, or a 1 percent gain. In comparison, median household income in the United States for 2010 was $56,388, compared to $60,336 in 2017, or a 7 percent increase.

On the flipside, consumer prices in 2017 were up 12.41 percent over 2010, or an average inflation rate of 1.69 percent per year. So, our costs are up more than our income.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, in January 2010, our labor force consisted of 810,979 people, of whom 741,429 were employed and 69,550 were unemployed, for an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent. That’s compared to the preliminary November 2019 report indicating the labor force totals 803,528. Of those 764,254 are employed, and 39,274 unemployed, yielding an unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.

So, employment is up by 22,825 during 2010-2019 and the unemployment rate is down by 3.7 percent, even though the workforce is down 7,451. And I should note that debate persists in the differences between federal and state data.

Over the long term, the labor force participation in West Virginia appears steady, although low. In January 2010 it was 55.7 percent, as reported by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. In November 2019, it was reported as 55.5 percent. Basically the same.

Nationally, the labor participation rate stood at 64.8 percent in January 2010 and 63.2 percent, as of November 2019. This rate reflects the sum of all employed workers and those actively seeking employment divided by the total non-institutionalized, civilian working-age population.

So, what? Not as bad as feared in some respects, although not great in others. So, “Well, we made it.” Here’s hoping that the 2020s will bring us even more progress.

Tom Crouser is a business consultant living in Mink Shoals and a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist. Reach him at tom@crouser.com

or follow @TomCrouser on Twitter.