Young adults are the lifeblood of a state’s future—but what happens when that lifeblood runs dry?
It’s no secret that young people are leaving West Virginia. In fact, U.S. Census Bureau data confirms we’ve now lost a higher percentage of residents than any other state in the country. And with one of the highest numbers of elderly folks in the nation, we’ve officially reached a point in which more people are dying than being born in our state.
Most residents leave because there’s a lack of opportunity for growth. Imagine taking out thousands in loans and working towards a four-year bachelor’s degree only to be met with the prospect of a low wage job after graduation that doesn’t pay your bills, let alone let you keep up with a big student loan payment. Or perhaps you’re a skilled laborer willing and ready to roll up your sleeves to provide for your family, but the projects available barely help keep food on the table.
What would you do? If you’re like many West Virginians, you may decide to take your talents elsewhere in search of better opportunities. And if you’re reading this, you’ve likely known countless friends, family, or acquaintances who have done the same.
If we can’t retain local talent, and bring our native West Virginians back, our state will stay on a steady decline and our economic prospects will further deteriorate.
Some of the effects of our continued population decline in West Virginia:
- West Virginia becomes less attractive to potential businesses
- Worker shortages
- Potential loss of congressional seats
- Outsourcing of jobs
- Low wages
- Cheap, low quality, out-of-state labor
It’s a vicious cycle. When people move away from an area, jobs, schools, shops, and other industries where the wages were spent also suffer decline.
Most recently, West Virginia has begun to offer a $12,000 incentive to remote workers who move in-state for work. And while the cash may be a bonus for out-of-state workers willing to relocate, what incentives can we provide for those of us who are already here?
There Is A Way To Bring Native West Virginians Home
So what does this mean for the future of our state? Must we sit idle as we watch the “mass exodus” of our best and brightest unfold? Fortunately, there is a way forward. It’s called “prevailing wage”. Prevailing wage refers to the rate of pay that contractors and must offer employees for their work on public projects. It ensures that not only are workers fairly paid, but that the employees we attract are of high quality and, most importantly—local.
West Virginia had a prevailing wage law prior to 2016, but lawmakers repealed the law believing – without any evidence – that repeal would save money. Since then, low wages have infiltrated many West Virginia jobs and studies are showing that repeal not only failed to save our state money, but has damaged our local economies.
Since the repeal of prevailing wage, the quality of public construction projects has suffered, and local, well-paying construction jobs have been lost to out-of-state workers. West Virginia has also lost tax revenue paid into the local and state economy, and suffers from rising public health care costs due to slashing of worker benefits. When a worker loses employer-provided healthcare, taxpayers and already strained, local hospitals must pick up the costs.
By Restoring West Virginia’s Prevailing Wage Law, We Can:
- Strengthen our economy to attract and retain workers and bring home those who have left us for other opportunities.
- Create more well-paying jobs
- Ensure government dollars honor high local wage and benefit standards
- Attract high quality work from local talent
- Create employment opportunities with good benefits
- Improve our state with high quality roads, bridges, and infrastructure
- Restore rural hospitals with high quality health care
- Provide value for taxpayer money
Be A Voice For Prevailing Wage In West Virginia
- Governor Justice “brutally honest” about prevailing wage repeal
- Congressman David McKinley: “The repeal of prevailing wage rate was based on erroneous studies.”
- Congressman David McKinley: “Out of town contractors don’t benefit this community.”
- Ending the Exodus