Not Giving Up On Opportunity

West Virginia falls nearly at the bottom of an Opportunity Index created by groups called Measure of America and Opportunity Nation. Their report gave the state an opportunity score of 45 percent – a dismally failing score – in terms of the economic, academic and civic factors that determine the level of opportunity and economic mobility.

In fact, the report found 20 percent of West Virginia young people between ages 16 and 24 are neither going to school nor working. Twenty percent of those who should be our brightest and best, who should represent hope and opportunity for all of us, have given up. They have become purely drains on revenue and social services. By comparison, the group’s report found the national average for folks in that age group not in school or working is 15 percent.

Factors such as the number of people below the poverty line, Internet access, college graduation rates, income equality and public safety were considered in the report, but there appears to be something deeper at work here.

There was a time when it would have been so socially unacceptable in this state to make yourself utterly dependent on the hard work of others that young people would have been ashamed to not give all their effort toward getting their educations or finding good work. Surely a great deal of fault lies with communities, educators and parents if our children have so little self-worth.

It should be noted, however, that Wetzel County was among the highest individual scoring counties in the state. Its residents are to be congratulated for putting up such resistance to the idea of young people just giving up. In Wetzel County, the report showed the mean household income is nearly $1,000 per year below the state average, and more than $12,000 below the national average. But the rate of on-time high school graduations in the county blows well past the national average at 86.4 percent versus 78.2 percent.

Any of those residents will tell you, there is no magic formula making their county an easier place to live and find opportunity. They have no hidden advantage – just good people much like those who can be found all over the state. Perhaps their example will inspire others to push this generation to find or create the opportunities it seeks.