Quality of Life in West Virginia
A running bad joke is that Mississippi and West Virginia compete to see which state can beat the other out so as not to be in last place in state quality-of-life rankings. Sad but also too often true. Poverty, environmental quality, education, business climate, health, happiness, drug abuse, Internet, access to basic services, etc. are at the bottom of numerous studies and polls.
Why? The excuse of closed in rugged mountainous terrain falls apart when one considers that Vermont typically ranks among the higher in state quality rankings. Vermont has no navigable waterway like the Ohio River, is further from populated markets, has a colder climate, and like West Virginia, has no large cities and is largely rural, wooded, mountainous, and rocky. Oh, and unlike West Virginia, it has no coal or gas.
Well, maybe that last bit about "coal or gas" has something to do with the disparity of quality-of-life state rankings. West Virginia has based its economy largely on extraction of resources. First, the timber was completely harvested down to bare hills and flooded rivers. Coal cycles between boom and bust. The modest gas industry has now exploded with horizontal hydraulic fracturing of deep lying shale.
One last grim statistic glares forth. The population in much of West Virginia has been declining decade by decade, especially in the southern coal fields and highly rural areas. Homer Hickam of Rocket Boys fame (film, "October Sky"), exemplifies the "brain drain" of the coal-based mono-economy. If a kid does not want to mine coal, his other choice is to leave his community.
West Virginia does have wonderful attributes, too. The sense of family, of community, of the home place, is very strong, perhaps tops in the nation. West Virginians are patriotic, neighborly, have a "can do" spirit when times are tough, and have a love for nature. Some sectors of crime rates are low. West Virginia people are lovely. And where the extractive industries have not created mayhem, the bountiful, lush woodlands, clear streams, and multitudinous species of plants and animals, along with eye-pleasing scenery, is marvelous.
Pocahontas County has high quality outdoor life. Nature enjoyment, bright night skies, quiet, fishing, hunting, camping, fun in water and snow, and lots of public lands. National award-winning libraries, a Recreation Center along with several parks, the Opera House, a vibrant arts and music community, dependable schools, churches, and neighborliness and helpfulness, as well as stellar businesses, professionals, community service groups, a hospital, nursing home, family resource center, good road upkeep, and a good number of hard, dependable workers, are some of many amenities that Pocahontas County enjoys in spite of its sparse, low-density population.
Despite the many challenges of West Virginia, and Pocahontas County, this can be a wonderful place to dig in, work hard, struggle some, yet find deep satsifaction.
Eight Rivers Council is dedicated to assuring and improving the quality of life of its residents, its future citizens, and its many visitors.
Gallup and Healthways have teamed up since 2008 to study each state, metropolitian area, and congressional district for Quality of Life. Categories include: Overall; Life Evaluation [hope]; Emotional Health [happiness]; Work Environment; Physical Health; Healthy Behaviors; Basic Access [to services]. Each consecutive year from 2008—2014, West Virginia comes in #50 in state rankings. WV Congressional District #3, which includes Pocahontas County, has in some years been # 434 (very last place of all congressional districts) in Overall, Life Evaluation, Emotional Health, and Physical Health. Other years our district is in the bottom 10.
"West Virginia is Open for Business" (Gov. Joe Manchin) Really? See below.
Forbes is a leading business publication, which ranks according to business climate. West Virginia is ranked at #48 for the year 2015.
CNBC has West Virginia ranked # 48 for business climate in 2014.
The Tax Foundation ranks WV at # 25.
WV ENVIRONMENT (see links below)
Daily Finance ranked WV #48 in Environmental Quality in 2011 (latest study)
Forbes listed WV # 50 in Environmental Quality in 2007, their last study.
WV HEALTH (see links below)
The United Health Foundation currently ranks WV # 44. Strengths include low levels of binge drinking; low incidence of infectious disease; high per capita public health funding. Weaknesses include high rates of smoking, obesity, drug deaths. Violent crime has increased, rates of poverty has increased (23% of children), drug deaths worsened. Immunizations are improving, infant mortality is improving.
WV was second next to Kentucky in percentage of smokers in 2009 at 27%. WV smokers also smoke the most. The average West Virginian smoker buys 113 packs a year, compared to just 23 packs per person sold in Washington, D.C. WV also has the second highest rate of deaths attributable to lung cancer.
West Virginia and Mississippi are tied for worst rates of obesity, at over 35%. 
Happy people? WV ranks # 50 for sixth consecutive year, according to Gallup.
Education? In higher education, WV ranks last at # 50.
24/7 Wall Street Report, ranking WV # 50, says the following:
"Less than 19% of West Virginia’s adult population had completed at least a bachelor’s degree in 2013, more than 10 percentage points lower than the national rate and the lowest rate in the country. Residents ages 18 to 24 across the nation were also far more likely than West Virginia residents of this age group to have an associate’s degree or at least some college experience. West Virginia was one of only a few states where less than half of residents between 18 and 24 had at least some college experience last year. And yet, residents were not the worst off relative other least educated states. The median earnings of West Virginians without a high school diploma was $20,267, in line with the national median."
Population gain or loss? U.S. Census says that West Virginia is the only state that has lost population between 2010 and 2014.
See also Charleston Gazette article March 2015. Including this quote:
“The gain in employment in the natural-gas industry hasn’t been as big as we expected,” Christiadi said.
Ted Boettner, director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, called natural-gas drilling a capital-intensive industry, in that it requires lots of equipment and machinery but comparatively few workers.
“It doesn’t employ that many people, and a lot of the people that it does employ aren’t from West Virginia,” Boettner said."