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Poverty Rate Gets Worse in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Mark Curtis: "Welcome back to West Virginia Tonight. We want to focus in tonight on a new report our concerning poverty here in the Mountain State. I want to introduce Sean O'Leary who is with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. And the report is out tonight concerning poverty in this state and it's not necessarily good news. We're going to put up a graphic here. I want to show some of the headlines. West Virginia right now, 19.1 percent of the people in the state live in poverty. That's a 1.2 percent increase over last year. Even more jarring is that 25.5 percent of children in West Virginia live in poverty. I know it's a difficult question to answer but why are we seeing this? And why are we seeing an increase given that we hear so many reports about the economy improving in this state? 

Sean O'Leary, West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy
"Yes, I think what's happening here in West Virginia is that we have some top line numbers that look really good. So our GDP grows; our total income grows; but that growth is happening in a way that's not benefiting everybody. So when energy prices go up and that bumps up our GDP, that doesn't mean a whole lot for your typical family in West Virginia. What we've seen here, is that in the ten-years since the recession, there's been no progress. Our incomes have stayed the same. Our poverty rates have stayed the same. We've actually gone up this year. So that's really troubling especially when we hear all this talk that things are good now, things are turning, We're having a comeback. That's not the case for most people in West Virginia."

Mark Curtis, West Virginia Tonight:
"Yeah, because we hear unemployment is low. There is a lot more job opportunities right now with the road bonds and other things going on. It just... it's almost seems incongruous that poverty would be going up at a time when prosperity - at least for some in this state - is going up, too?

Sean O'Leary, WV Center on Budget and Policy
"That's right. It's prosperity for some and it seems to be contained in that little bubble of the gas industry, the construction industry with the road bond. But, for most people out there working in retail, working in food service jobs, they're still working in low wage jobs. They're still struggling to get by. They're still struggling, you know, to put food on the table. And these things, rising gas prices, GDP growth, doesn't mean a whole lot to those families."

Mark Curtis, West Virginia Tonight
"I want to talk about some of the other items in the report. West Virginia having the distinction, sadly, of having the fourth highest poverty rate in the nation. The poverty rate for senior citizens and especially minority group members is also very high. Let's talk about a solution. The Earned Income tax Credit is something you folks advocate. And many people on both sides of the aisle in the legislature want to do this. How would it benefit these folks?"

Sean O'leary, WV Center on Budget and Policy
"What that does, is it makes sure there's economic opportunity for everyone. That everyone who is working gets a chance to make ends meet. That everyone who's working can you know afford child care for their children, so they can work. And also we talked about the day before the poverty release, also talked about health insurance coverage, and we saw a decline on that in West Virginia. So we want to make sure that everyone is able to see a doctor, so that they can get healthy. And it's just that idea of when we build our security and make our communities thrive, we need to open up the doors of opportunity to everyone, and the EITC is one of the best ways to do it."

Mark Curtis, West Virginia Tonight
"Yes, we are going to keep an eye on this because we know the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) - its available at the federal level, but the proposal is also to make it at the state tax level, and we know it's coming back in the legislature in 2019, so we'll keep an eye on that. Again we want to thank Sean O'Leary from the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy for joining us with this very important report."

Sean O'Leary: "Thank you."

Mark: "And we'll have more of West Virginia Tonight and your complete local forecast after we take a break."


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