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Was West Virginia the Eighth Fastest Growing State Economy Last Year?

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Along U.S. Route 19 in southern West Virginia, row after row of pipe is stockpiled in preparation for construction of the 300-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline, one of several major natural gas pipelines that will crisscross the state as the industry booms. Photo: F. Brian Ferguson/Charleston Gazette-Mail

In a West Virginia MetroNews debate before he won another term in Congress, U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., defended President Donald Trump’s handling of the economy, saying the state had benefited disproportionately.

“Last year we had the eighth fastest-growing economy in the country in West Virginia,” he said, responding to Kendra Fershee, his Democratic opponent.

Is McKinley’s statement accurate?

Earlier this year, data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis — the federal office that calculates economic growth in the states — showed that West Virginia ranked 11th in inflation-adjusted growth in gross domestic product between 2016 and 2017, with a 2.6 percent increase. That’s not the same as eighth, but it’s close.

That data, however, was subsequently updated, and the newer data is less favorable to West Virginia.

In the most recent calculations, West Virginia actually ranked 19th out of the 50 states in year-over-year change in GDP, with a 2.2 percent increase. So West Virginia was in the top half of the ratings table, but well below the eighth-place finish that McKinley cited.

A more impressive measurement for the state was one that McKinley didn’t mention — the increase in GDP per capita, a statistic that adjusts the size of growth to account for a state’s population.

Using that statistic, West Virginia actually ranked in a tie for first with Washington state. Both notched a 2.9 percent increase between 2016 and 2017.

 

Analysts say the expansion of West Virginia’s mining sector accounted for the lion’s share of the state’s GDP growth.

It’s also worth noting that a reason for West Virginia’s high rates of per-capita GDP growth is population loss — not a positive sign for the state.

McKinley’s office did not respond to an inquiry.

Our ruling

McKinley said, “Last year we had the eighth fastest-growing economy in the country in West Virginia.”

The final data actually shows that West Virginia ranked quite a bit lower, at 19th. The state fared better using a different statistic that McKinley didn’t mention — per-capita GDP growth, where it was tied for first.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact. 

Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Have More Overdoses Than Any State?

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Photo: AP Photo

Does West Virginia have the nation’s leading rate of overdoses?

On Oct. 3, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., tweeted, “#WV has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation. That’s why I made sure the SUPPORT for Patients & Communities Act included a set aside for states like WV. This language more than tripled the amount of funding coming to our state for this coming year.”

 

Here, we’ll focus on whether West Virginia “has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation.”

We turned to an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was collected and analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The data is from 2016.

Manchin’s tweet wasn’t specific about whether he was referring to opioid overdoses specifically or overdoses generally. The Kaiser Family Foundation analysis includes data for both, so we looked at both categories.

On both lists, West Virginia has the unhappy distinction of ranking No. 1.

Here’s a chart showing the data for opioid overdoses specifically. The data looks at the number of overdoses per 100,000 population, which is an equivalent measure to per capita. The opioid overdose rate in West Virginia easily outpaces the second-ranking state, New Hampshire.

 

As for overdoses overall, West Virginia finishes first, with Ohio ranking second.

 

Our ruling

Manchin said that West Virginia “has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation.”

Official government data shows that West Virginia ranks first per capita in both opioid overdoses specifically and in overdoses more generally. We rate the statement True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Did West Virginia Lead the Way in Construction Job Growth?

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FILE- In this Aug. 30, 2018, file photo a workers toil on a new home under construction in Denver. Photo:David Zalubowski/AP Photo FILE

Did West Virginia lead the nation in the growth of construction jobs jobs in 2017? The West Virginia Republican Party says it did.

On Sept. 14, the party tweeted, “Did you know West Virginia added the highest percentage of new construction jobs in 2017 in the United States, at 14.4%? This amounted to 4,300 additional jobs! In fact, #WV was the only state with double-digit growth! Read more about the #WVcomeback.”

 

The tweet linked to an article from the Wheeling News-Register citing those numbers. But we wanted to confirm this with original data.

It turns out that the source of the 50-state comparison is a report by the Associated General Contractors of America, a trade association in the construction industry. The comparison is drawn from data collected from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here are the five states with the biggest percentage increases during 2017:

State Increase in jobs Twelve-month percentage increase
West Virginia 4,300 14.4 percent
California 75,500 9.8 percent
Nevada 7,800 9.7 percent
New Mexico 4,300 9.7 percent
Idaho 3,800 8.7 percent

So the party’s tweet was accurate.

We also took a longer-term look at construction employment in the state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction employment in West Virginia bottomed out in the second half of 2016 and rose consistently through the first quarter of 2018 before stabilizing.

Still, the current level of construction employment in West Virginia hasn’t returned to its nearly three-decade peak in the period before the onset of the Great Recession.

It’s worth noting that construction jobs, while important for people within the industry and within adjacent industries, only account for about 4.5 percent of non-agricultural employment in the state — about 34,000 construction jobs in August 2018 out of 752,000 nonfarm jobs in all.

“Total job growth clearly matters more to West Virginia citizens than employment in just one not-so-big industry,” said Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Still, as far as the tweet’s limited claim goes, it is accurate.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party tweeted that “West Virginia added the highest percentage of new construction jobs in 2017 in the United States, at 14.4%? This amounted to 4,300 additional jobs! In fact, #WV was the only state with double-digit growth!”

A look at the original data shows that the No. 1 ranking, the percentage increase, and the raw increase in jobs are all correct. So is West Virginia’s distinction as the only state with double-digit growth in 2017. We rate the statement True.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Are Black Lung Cases at a 25-year High?

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Scott Tiller, a coal miner of 31 years, takes a break while operating a continuous miner machine in a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Photo: David Goldman/AP Photo

Are cases of black lung disease, a scourge of the coal-mining industry, more numerous today than in recent memory? That’s the message of a joint press release by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Black lung disease, also called coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by dusts that are inhaled and deposited in the lungs, which can create scar tissue that makes it more difficult to breathe. The condition can be prevented with appropriate respiratory protection, but once it develops, there is no cure, according to the American Lung Association.

The senators’ statement touted legislation to help with the early detection of black lung disease. The legislation requires the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to submit a report to Congress on ways to boost outreach efforts to increase participation in the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program. (We’re checking Manchin rather than Capito because he was the one quoted citing this particular statistic in the news release.)

The press release, posted on Manchin’s website on Aug. 23, 2018, said, “Black lung cases are at a 25-year high, and with today’s technology and our knowledge of this disease, that is simply unacceptable.”

Is this correct? We took a closer look.

The black lung study

The news release from Manchin and Capito cites a study published by the American Journal of Public Health. The study was produced by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Morgantown, W.Va. Researchers used radiographs collected from 1970 to 2017 to determine the ebb and flow of the disease.

The study found that not only have black lung cases increased but also that their prevalence will likely be reflected in future trends of such conditions as progressive massive fibrosis, which refers to masses in the upper pulmonary lobes of the lungs.

Here are three charts from the study showing, from left to right, the prevalence of black lung in the United States as a whole; the prevalence in central Appalachia, defined as Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia; and the prevalence in the United States outside of central Appalachia.

These charts show that around 1970, the prevalence of black lung was far higher than it is today — about 30 percent of miners with the longest tenures. That rate fell steadily, and by the late 1990s it had declined to the single digits.

But that decline has since reversed. Now, the national prevalence in miners with 25 years or more of tenure exceeds 10 percent, and in central Appalachia, 20.6 percent of long-tenured miners have the disease.

Manchin’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article.

Our ruling

Manchin said that “black lung cases are at a 25-year high.”

A scientific study found that the prevalence of black lung disease plummeted between 1970 and the late 1990s, but that the rate has risen since then, although nowhere near its all-time high. That’s consistent with Manchin’s description. We rate the statement True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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