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Poverty increases in W.Va.

W.Va. group: State residents being ignored

PARKERSBURG — West Virginia’s poor are being ignored while recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows more residents lived in poverty in 2017 than the year before, according to a state group.

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey of income, poverty and health insurance said the number of people in poverty in West Virginia increased 17.9 percent to 19.1 percent from 2016 to 2017.

“The census data shows the reality and economic hardships of everyday West Virginians are being ignored as state policy makers claim a West Virginia economic turnaround,” said Sean O’Leary, senior policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “West Virginia’s economic growth since the Great Recession has not been balanced and the average West Virginian family is not better off.”

About 336,000 West Virginians lived in poverty in 2017, 5.7 percent higher than the national average. West Virginia was among the top four states with poverty rates of 18 percent – Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and West Virginia.

Lisa Doyle-Parsons, executive director of the Circles Campaign in the Mid-Ohio Valley, which assists families in poverty reach self-sufficiency through education and support, agrees with the findings.

Among factors leading to poverty are low wages, the drug epidemic and abruptly losing all assistance rather than gradual reductions, such as from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, upon earning more money, she said.

“You’re almost punished for working,” she said.

All socio-economic classes must work together and while education is a solution, it’s not necessarily college, Doyle-Parsons said. Skilled tradesmen are needed, she said.

“This is where the job market is opening,” Doyle-Parsons said.

Among other statistics, the survey said the child poverty rate in 2017 in West Virginia was 25.5 percent, a 1.9 percentage increase from 2016, with 91,734 children living in poverty in 2017, the fourth highest in the country.

African-Americans in West Virginia faced a poverty rate of 31.7 percent in 2017.

The poverty rate among senior citizens in 2017 was 10.2 percent. About 34,800 West Virginians over 65 lived in poverty in 2017.

The survey also said poverty rates decrease for adults with higher levels of education. In 2017, the poverty rate for West Virginians with at least a bachelor’s degree was 5.2 percent, but 17.6 percent for those with just a high school diploma.

Poverty was highest among those who did not graduate from high school, at 32.9 percent.

The poverty rate for women in West Virginia in 2017 was 20.9 percent. It was 17.2 percent for men.

Unemployed West Virginians are five times more likely to be living in poverty as employed West Virginians. The poverty rate for employed West Virginians was 8 percent, compared to 42.6 percent for unemployed residents.

The median household income in West Virginia in 2017 was $43,469, $16,867 below the national average, the lowest median household income among states in 2017.

“Too many West Virginians struggled to make ends meet in 2017, so West Virginia needs to take action to pass a state Earned Income Tax Credit which would make it easier for people to build a secure future,” O’Leary said.

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