On August 21, Donald Trump headed to West Virginia to deliver another one of his factually challenged MAGA rally speeches, hosted by the state’s Republican governor, Jim Justice. Within his speech of garbled sentences and egotistical ramblings, he touted the economy of West Virginia:
“Do you know that a few months ago, it hit where West Virginia on a per capita basis is one of the most successful GDP states in our union? So we went from being down and out. You’re one of the most successful in the union, very close to the top.”
For the people of West Virginia, this would certainly be welcome news.
Unfortunately, reality and Donald Trump don’t often see eye to eye, as a just released report from the Appalachian Regional Commission illustrated:
Three more counties in West Virginia are now considered economically distressed by the Appalachian Regional Commission than the year before, running counter to the region’s overall trend, according to recent data from the federal-state agency.
Counties in Appalachia are divvied up into five levels of economic status by the agency, from best to worst: attainment county, competitive county, transitional county, at-risk county and distressed county.
Fayette, Summers and Wetzel counties have been moved from at-risk counties to distressed counties. In West Virginia, they join Roane, Calhoun, Gilmer, Braxton, Webster, Clay, Boone, Lincoln, Logan, Wyoming, McDowell and Mingo counties in that category.
Now, 272,571 West Virginians live in distressed counties, a hike from the last fiscal year’s 205,068 total, per the commission.
“I think what’s happening is the data is catching up with the reality of the situation,” said Wendy Wasserman, the ARC’s communications director, adding that West Virginia being so dependent on the declining coal economy has played a role.
The ARC, an economic development agency which provides grants and project support in the region, uses three economic indicators in making its county classifications: three-year average unemployment rate, per capita market income and poverty rate. It then compares those indicators with national averages and creates an index value, making economic designations annually based on that value.
Politifact also noticed that line from Trump’s rally and decided to weigh in:
Judging by quarterly GDP growth — a measure Trump has used accurately in the past to talk about West Virginia — the state chalked up two quarters of rapid growth but three quarters of stagnation. In the most recent two quarters, West Virginia was mired around 1 percent growth, ranking in the bottom half of states.
Alternately, using GDP per capita, Trump is way off, as West Virginia ranks 47th among the states in this measure.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores evidence that would give a different impression, so we rate the statement Mostly False.
The people of West Virginia face a choice. Would they rather believe in the fairy tales offered up by Donald Trump, or would they rather try policies founded in reality? Because there are options based in reality that could help West Virginia. Such as diversifying their energy sector:
West Virginia needs to be open to economic change, particularly when it comes to renewable energy, an energy company official said at a business gathering Wednesday that touted a “comeback” of coal and the state’s economy at-large.
Bob Orndorff, Dominion Energy’s state policy director, said at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce’s annual business summit at The Greenbrier resort that the state needs to be mindful of wind and solar power’s increasing appeal to companies looking to invest in new places.
“For years, coal was the base of everything we did,” Orndorff said in a panel discussion on energy’s future in the state. “It still is, and it still has a role, but we need to talk about wind. We need to talk about solar, because the Procter & Gambles of the world want that.”
West Virginia “needs to make a quantum leap” when it comes to inexpensive and renewable electricity options and should be willing to adapt, Orndorff added.
This article also threw some more reality into the mix:
As of July, the state’s unemployment rate sits at 5.4 percent, the highest in the country outside of Alaska and Washington, D.C. The national average in July was 3.9 percent.
Justice added later that “our coal miners are back to work” — industry jobs have risen since 2016, with U.S. labor force data saying industry jobs rose to 13,551 people in the state. But the numbers are still far behind where the state was just seven years ago, when the industry employed more than 23,000 people. A recent report from West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics forecasts a long-term decline in coal production.
So, with all the bluster from Donald Trump about bringing back coal, the grand total of coal jobs in West Virginia sits at a whopping 13,551. Not exactly a job creating juggernaut.
Which brings us back to renewable energy:
The Midwest is now home to 714,257 clean energy jobs, according to the 2018 Clean Jobs Midwest Report published by Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs. Clean energy workers do a lot more than install solar panels and wind turbines — this industry includes energy efficiency workers, advancing technology for our electric grid, researching clean fuels, and figuring out ways to advance our transportation.
There’s a strong case for business optimism for the industry, despite policy uncertainty. Across the region, renewable energy jobs grew by 5 percent over the last year. Midwestern clean energy employers have a positive outlook and project over 32,000 jobs will be added this year, a 4.5 percent growth rate.
Sounds a little better than a Donald Trump fairy tale. Of course, Donald Trump isn’t the only one who believes he can spin fairy tales to the people of West Virginia. So does West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, who just happens to also be a billionaire owner of coal mines:
Justice said people need to thank President Donald Trump, who visited Charleston earlier this month, for his work at the federal level in lifting regulations and promoting business growth. He said Republicans must not lose their majorities in the West Virginia House of Delegates and Senate, so the state can continue gaining momentum.
Momentum? Maybe for Jim Justice’s own pockets. For the rest of the State, being ranked 47th in the country in GDP per capita doesn’t sound like the kind of momentum that should be encouraged.
West Virginia, are you tired yet of being lied to?