Last week, I compared Huntington to Bozeman, Montana — university towns both having similar-sized populations in rural scenic states. Bozeman is growing; Huntington and West Virginia are shrinking. Right now, our state has the largest proportional population decrease of all states. We need to understand why West Virginia is losing a significant share of its population and what we can do about it.
HD Media’s recent online poll showed that over 75% of those responding knew someone who had moved from the Mountain State in recent years. While out-migration occurs in all states, West Virginia, a state with a high percentage of older people, lacks meaningful in-migration. We need ambitious young people.
WalletHub, a credit monitoring site, also evaluates and compares U.S. states on finances and economics. This week their email state-by-state comparisons include “Best and Worst States for Millennials” (ages 25-40). WalletHub reports that using 34 metrics that include affordability, education/health and quality of life, West Virginia ranked last. Washington state was first.
West Virginia’s affordability was 25th, education/health was 43rd and quality of life 51st. For someone who has lived in West Virginia almost a half century, those scores were disappointing and not what I experience. Yet, this is the view of millennials, America’s future.
WalletHub’s data prompted me to run my own unscientific email survey of views on West Virginia from out-of-state family and friends. Approximately 50 people, ranging in age from the 20s to 80s from a dozen states, were contacted. Some have lived in or visited West Virginia, but most obtained their information from the media, which is often not West Virginia’s best friend.
For example, last week NBC’s national evening news featured a story on two women from Cabell County with substance abuse disorder to illustrate the relationship of the pandemic to drug overdoses. The interviews were done well, and the footage included the work of the Quick Response Team. Yet, this and the Huntington/Cabell County’s suit against the three drug makers may be the only information on West Virginia that reached much of the nation that week.
About the same time, this newspaper reported that a local substance abuse prevention group received a large federal grant and included a statement from Sen. Joe Manchin that “Every West Virginian has been impacted by the drug epidemic and with over 90,000 overdose deaths, this year has been the deadliest on record.” For real progress, opiates/drugs/addiction must stop being synonymous with West Virginia.
My survey respondents were asked three questions. If you were to move from the state you now live in, what state(s) would you want to move to? Most had no interest in moving, but Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington were mentioned — not West Virginia.
Next week, I’ll discuss the answers to the other two questions: “When you think about West Virginia, what are the first things that come to mind?” and “What if anything would West Virginia have to change for you to consider moving here?” The answers may suggest ways to again grow our state.