Making Future Brighter in W.Va.
The odds are stacked against many children growing up in West Virginia. While state and federal governments mount campaigns ranging from school reform to health care to help the kids, the root cause of what holds them back from the bright futures most American children expect has not been addressed successfully.
Poverty makes children less healthy. It makes the job of teaching them vastly more difficult. It puts higher education out of reach for those who want it. It limits their career options.
And poverty is a vicious enemy. It has been self-sustaining in West Virginia for generations.
More than one in four children in our state live in households with incomes below the federally designated poverty level. For those under 6, the rate is 30 percent.
More than one-third of West Virginia children live in single-parent homes. That, too, seems to be a vicious cycle: We have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the nation.
Labor force participation – those 16 and older working or seeking jobs – is the lowest in the nation, at 54 percent.
The median household income in our state is $39,550 a year, far below the $52,762 U.S. average.
Fewer than one in five Mountain State residents hold college degrees.
Nearly 300,000 children in our state rely on government programs for health care.
There is an answer to the plight of many West Virginia children – and it isn’t more government programs.
It is jobs. Clearly, economic development – lifting families out of poverty by putting more people to work in good jobs – needs to be the priority for both state and federal officials.
Some of what is needed to do that, such as tax and regulatory reform, is far from popular in Charleston and Washington. But unless the politicians decide to adopt a true growth policy for West Virginia, the vicious cycle will continue.