West Virginia’s economy is improving. There are a number of significant statistics that demonstrate that, and we’ll get to those in a moment.
However, context is also important. It’s unwise to just listen to what politicians say about our economic condition. Those responsible for economic policies are naturally going to cherry pick the data.
The most obvious indicators of the state’s bounce back are the tax revenue collections. Governor Justice announced Monday that the state will end the fiscal year with collections exceeding estimates by at least $20 million. According to a news release from the Governor, “The last time the state finished a budget cycle with a surplus, without mid-year budget cuts, was FY 2012, six years ago.”
Fair point, and the budget figures are encouraging. However, it’s worth pointing out that Governor Justice did not approve of this budget. As MetroNews statewide correspondent Brad McElhinny reported, “The budget the state wound up operating under, he let pass without his signature. ‘I’m just going to let it go into law. I can’t possibly put my name on it,’” he said.
President Trump touched on West Virginia’s economy during his speech at the Greenbrier Tuesday night. He said, “Last year, in West Virginia, per capita personal income grew more than 40 percent faster than the national average.”
That’s true, but again context is important. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, West Virginia’s per capita income grew 3.4 percent in 2017, while the national increase was 2.4 percent. So, West Virginia was 40 percent higher.
However, the actual dollar amount of per capita income in West Virginia last year was $37,924—49th in the country—while the national average was $50,392.
Last December, Governor Justice heralded a study showing West Virginia’s economy was doing better than the rest of the country. He cited a report by GoBankingRates that said West Virginia had the fastest growing economy in the U.S. in 2017.
That is accurate. The state’s increase in GDP, personal income and improving employment rate combined to push the state to the top of the list. However, GoBankingRates also points out that “West Virginia ranks as No.1 most improving because it had so much ground to make up.”
Jim Justice campaigned with a promise of taking West Virginia on an economic rocket ship ride. Clearly, the state’s economy is on the upswing. As always, it’s debatable whether that growth is attributable to political and policy decisions, natural ebbs and flows in the economy or a combination of both.
A rocket ship ride? Not exactly, but there is positive movement.