In a state struggling to compete economically with the rest of the country, trying to build population and retain youth, West Virginia has a lot of basic obstacles that have to be addressed.
The fact that so many lack access to clean, reliable water service is certainly an issue. Health care is also a problem, with many clinics or specific hospital services shutting down in rural areas, forcing residents to drive hours for basic medical needs.
And then there’s food. It’s startling in a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the most prosperous country in the world, so many lack access to basic needs like fresh meat and produce.
Last year, the USDA ranked West Virginia 11th highest in food insecurity in the nation.
The problem was highlighted again in Clay County when the Clay IGA shut down late last month. Originally posting a sign that it was a temporary measure, it seems more permanent as the store hasn’t been open since June 24 and the smell of rotting food can be detected outside the building.
It’s a problem that’s surfaced over and over throughout multiple areas of the state. The main grocery store shuts down, and residents lose easy access to essentials.
There are still options for food, of course, but it comes from dollar stores, convenience stores or other options that are pricier and less healthy than what can be found at a grocery store.
Sure, many West Virginians can drive 20 to 40 minutes or longer to get to the nearest Kroger or Walmart. But there are plenty of West Virginians who can’t. If a person is living below the poverty line, has no personal transportation and no access to any type of public transportation — virtually non-existent outside of the state’s larger cities — how are they supposed to travel to the next town or county to get fresh food?
What ends up happening is that many West Virginians simply make do with less or without. It’s the same with health care and with water. Not having access to these most basic needs makes for a less healthy, more isolated population with few options for improvement.
Until these most fundamental problems are addressed, West Virginia will continue to lose population and economic opportunities.