‘Let’s Go’: West Virginia must solve its own problems

It is not your imagination if you are getting the feeling West Virginia has been bypassed by the upward trend for the U.S. economy. According to the Economic Innovation Group’s 2017 Distressed Communities Index, the Mountain State has more than one-third of its citizens living in economically distressed zip codes. The only states with larger percentages of the populations living in economic distress are — you guessed it — Mississippi and Alabama. (The fact that these three states, followed closely by Arkansas and Louisiana, have been at or near the bottom of every socio-economic ranking for generations should say something about the effectiveness of the entitlement programs and federal handouts that were allegedly intended to lift up precisely those folks.)

Here in West Virginia, according to the report, 3.1 percent of the population is living in zip codes deemed “prosperous.” It is one of the largest gaps in the country.

“A remarkably small proportion of places fuel national increases in jobs and businesses in today’s economy,” the report said. Clearly, in West Virginia, there are even fewer such places, and it is not enough to lift everyone.

All three of the Mountain State’s congressional districts are labeled as “distressed,” though the Third District — Southern West Virginia, is among the worst in the country, scoring 98.1 points, with 100 being the most distressed. Within the Third District lies McDowell County, which reached the 100th percentile. But do not get too comfortable about the situation in Wood County.

According to the assessment, Parkersburg — 26101 — scored 91.6 points. There are 39 percent of adults not working; 13.3 percent do not have high school diplomas, the poverty rate is 24.5 percent … the “distress rank” in this zip code is 23,925 out of 26,126.

No one from Washington, D.C., is swooping in to save us.

But there are opportunities — new ones arriving every day. There is hope. There is a chance for Wood County residents to emerge from being labeled as “left behind” if we are willing to work as hard as we are able, to value education and make it as accessible as possible, and to welcome– in fact, actively seek out — those who see the potential better than we do.

It is about time we stopped waiting around for the folks in Washington to do something for us, and looked around at what is possible. To borrow a phrase from the athletic field that should be more properly applied to West Virginians as a whole, “Let’s go!”