High, lows for Mountain State’s economic figures

The state of the economy in West Virginia is currently far better than most of the other states in the nation. According to a report released earlier this month by the U. S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the state’s real gross domestic product increased by 4.5 percent in 2011.

This gave West Virginia the third-highest growth rate in the nation behind only North Dakota which had a phenomenal 7.6 percent jump in its GDP to lead the United States, and Oregon which experienced a 4.7 percent increase last year.

All the states surrounding West Virginia also experienced modest jumps in GDP but all at a much lower rate. Pennsylvania saw an increase of 1.2 percent followed by Ohio at 1.1 percent, Maryland 0.9 percent, Kentucky 0.5 percent and Virginia 0.3 percent.

Another positive economic sign for the Mountain State is that the unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2012 was 7.1 percent — the state’s lowest unemployment rate in three years, according to George Hammond, associate director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

On the down side, the per capita GDP last year in West Virginia was well below the national average. The state’s figure was $30,056 per capita which was far below the national average of all 50 states at $42,070. The tiny state of Delaware had the highest per capita average of $63,159, while the lowest average for any state was $28,293 in Mississippi.

Mining was a big reason that North Dakota had the nation’s highest growth rate — contributing 2.81 percent to the overall real GDP growth of 7.6 percent. But it was even more of a factor here in West Virginia, accounting for 3.89 percentage points of the overall 4.5 percent increase.

Hammond also noted that West Virginia has added 13,000 seasonally adjusted non-farm payroll jobs in 2011 which “translates into a rate of growth of 1.8 percent.” He said the rate nationwide was only 1.5 percent.

As for unemployment, West Virginia’s seasonally adjusted rate at the end of the first quarter of 2012 was 7.1 percent which is the lowest unemployment rate here in three years. In comparison, the national average unemployment rate is 8.2 percent.

Some of the indications of growth in the Mountain State include 400 new jobs at Gestamp’s new South Charleston stamping plant and the planned opening in August of Cabela’s second outdoor gear retail store in West Virginia at Southridge Centre outside Charleston that will add 250 new jobs.

The most disturbing economic statistic for West Virginia is that only 53.9 percent of adults in this state were either working or looking for work at the last count. That is the lowest rate in the nation, according to the U. S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national rate is 63.6 percent. So this so-called “labor force participation rate” means West Virginia still has a long way to go, according to the experts.

Meanwhile, it now costs more to get a marriage license in West Virginia unless the couple planning to be wed are willing to submit themselves to four hours of premarital counseling. A new law that took effect earlier this month adds $20 to the current marriage license fee of $36 for all couples who do not submit to four hours of premarital counseling.

It is either a curse or a cure, depending on who you ask. Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper insists it is simply a new tax to raise money for the state. And Patti Hamilton, executive secretary of the West Virginia Association of Counties, claims it puts an additional burden on counties to comply with the new requirements.

But Jeremiah Dys, who is president of the conservative Family Policy Council, believes the new law will help strengthen families. He claims it will actually improve the state’s economy by reducing the state’s divorce rate. According to Dys, West Virginia averages 9,200 divorces a year — each of them costing the state $20,000 to $30,000.

According to Dys, the annual cost to the state is in the range of $184 million to $276 million which seems to be an excessive amount. He claims the families themselves pay a lot for each divorce — emotionally as well as financially.

Finally, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has ruled that a Florida company that built “dioramas” at the museum in the Culture Center on the State Capitol grounds owes its employees $222,000 in additional wages because it did not pay the wage scale for construction projects. Company officials for ThemeWorks had argued that it is a “model of the New River Gorge Bridge and we don’t consider that construction.”

But the state’s Division of Labor proved that the agreement with the principal contractor for the museum project required all subcontractors — including ThemeWorks — to pay prevailing wage. For those of you — like me — not familiar with the word “diorama,” the dictionary describes it as “an exhibit consisting of modeled figures, etc., set in a naturalistic foreground blended into a painted background.” The work in the state museum is a model of the New River Gorge bridge.

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