What the Hell Happened to West Virginia? Episode 1 – Poverty.

This is just sad.

West Virginia is the second poorest state in the nation. We’ve all heard that before – we know how a decline in coal jobs and a lack of good jobs and a generational sense of pride and self reliance has meant that many people here in West Virginia struggle.

It’s really pretty – there’s really charming little towns tucked away in the hollers and mountain valleys all throughout this state. While they don’t make much money, a lot of folks here don’t need much to live, either. However, as it stands, 1 in 5 people here lives at or below the poverty line.

Today, we’re going to visit the second poorest county in West Virginia – a county on the northern end of the state that’s just south of Morgantown. We’re going to drive through a place called Fairmont, the biggest city in a very poor county. As we’ll see, while much of Fairmont is doing just fine, a lot of this place is not, and Fairmont is just one example of like 100 other places in West Virginia where poverty and drug addiction rules the day.

At one point in Fairmont, there were 27,000 people. Today, due to a lack of jobs and younger generations fleeing for better opportunities, the population has plummeted to around 18,000 people. Here in Fairmont, 1 in 4 people lives in poverty and many collect unemployment benefits and welfare. The average person here earns about $16,000 a year, which is pretty much 8 bucks an hour. You can imagine the types of jobs that exist here. A quick walk around the area in the evening showed that EVERYONE in town was hiring, but a lot of people in this town don’t want to work. Or at least work here.

Of course, West Virginia isn’t just poor overall. This state traditionally ranks towards the bottom when it comes to healthcare, obesity and education.

It’s a cycle here in West Virginia – a place where despair lingers in the damp air between rolling hills and where people who can’t “just pick up and leave,” as outsiders advise, or who just object to doing so.

Coal jobs left this area ages ago, and there’s no sign it’s ever going to come back. Many West Virginians don’t have the skills needed to transition into other industries, or can’t pass the drug tests needed for new employment. Even so, this is the worst state for jobs. I mean you can’t farm here, and it’s hard to convince any large companies to locate here, considering the terrain and potential job pool.

The poverty has been made worse by an influx of opioids, on which tens of thousands of West Virginians became addicted to. These days, it’s heroin and meth that plagues small poor communities in this state. And sadly, addicted parents can’t care for their children. There are an estimated 7,000 West Virginia kids in foster care under state supervision because of parental drug abuse and neglect.

#westvirginia @moving

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