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Shelley Moore Capito Correct on Suicides in West Virginia

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Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., speaks at a roundtable on the opioid epidemic at Cabell-Huntington Health Center in Huntington, WVa., Monday, July 8, 2019. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., recently sought to raise awareness about suicide, focusing on its toll in her home state.

“On average, one person dies by suicide every 22 hours in West Virginia,” Capito said in a Facebook post on Sept. 19.

She went on to note her efforts with two Senate colleagues, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Doug Jones, D-Ala., to pass the Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for Universal Prevention, or STANDUP, Act, which would expand efforts to educate young people about mental health resources.

Is Capito correct about the frequency of suicide in West Virginia? Capito’s office did not respond to an inquiry for this article, but we were able to find statistics that backed up her assertion.

We turned to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s WISQARS database, which includes data as recently as 2017. The database shows that there were 393 suicides in West Virginia. 

With 8,760 hours in a year, that comes out to about one suicide every 22.3 hours, making Capito’s statistic correct.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in West Virginia. It ranks even higher for certain age groups, ranking second among those between 15 and 34 and fourth among those between 35 and 54. On a per capita basis, West Virginia has the eighth-highest rate of suicide in the nation.

We checked with both the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and University of Denver associate professor of social work Stacey Freedenthal, a specialist in suicide, and both agreed that there are no complications with the data that would undercut Capito’s statement.

Our ruling

Capito said, “On average, one person dies by suicide every 22 hours in West Virginia.” This statistic is backed up by official data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so we rate her statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Is West Virginia Short of 20,000 Skilled Workers its Economy Needs?

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Chris Book, who was accepted into a sheet-metal apprentice program, performs maintenance work on the floor in the cargo hold of a Boeing 737. Photo: AP/Michael Conroy

Is West Virginia falling significantly behind in the job skills required for today’s economy? West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said so in an address to students at Musselman High School in Berkeley County.

“In West Virginia, we have 20,000 jobs in which we don’t have skilled workers,” Gee told students at the high school

Gee’s office told PolitiFact West Virginia that they could not point to the original source of the statistic. However, we were able to reverse-engineer data that falls short of Gee’s number.

This gets a bit complicated, so bear with us. Here’s the overall concept. First, we’ll estimate the total number of job openings in West Virginia that require skilled workers. Then we’ll look into how hard these jobs are to fill, based on the educational shortcomings of West Virginia’s workforce.  

How many job openings in West Virginia require advanced skills?

On the job openings side, Brian Lego, a research assistant professor at WVU’s College of Business and Economics, suggested we look at data produced on an experimental basis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s chief agency for employment statistics.

This data in question is a spinoff of the longstanding Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, which produces monthly estimates of job openings, hires, and employee departures on a national basis. For several years, the bureau has also produced an experimental study of this data on a state-by-state basis, which is what Lego was referring to.

We looked at the most recent data for West Virginia, which covers the first six months of 2019. We found that in each of those six months, West Virginia had 38,000 job openings. (BLS acknowledges that this is an estimate, though the agency says it isn’t sure what the margin of error is.)

This 38,000 figure represents all job openings in West Virginia — not necessarily those requiring advanced skills.

However, we found a way to estimate the percentage requiring advanced skills, using data in a report published by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The report is from 2010, but it offered projections for the share of jobs in every state by 2018 that would require various levels of educational attainment, so it should offer a rough guide.

For West Virginia, the report said, 9% of jobs would be open to high school dropouts, 38% would require a high school degree, 12% would require some college but not a college degree, 15% would require an associate’s degree, 17% would require a bachelor’s degree, and 8% would require a master’s degree or higher.

All told, the Georgetown data sees 25% of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher. And 25% of 38,000 job openings in West Virginia works out to 9,500 job openings in any given month that require a bachelor’s degree. 

How big are the educational shortcomings in West Virginia’s workforce?

This 9,500 figure refers to the number of high-skill job openings in West Virginia — the demand side. What about the supply side — the share of West Virginia workers who have the necessary skills to fill those jobs?

We found a way to estimate that number, too. 

Statistics from the U.S. Education Department show that in 2016, about 21% of West Virginians age 25 and up had a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, in October 2019, West Virginia had 38,052 unemployed workers

If one assumes that this group of unemployed workers is a representative cross-section of the state’s educational attainment patterns, this would mean there are just under 8,000 unemployed West Virginians who could fill a job requiring a bachelor’s degree. But in reality, better-educated workers tend to be more likely to be employed, meaning the actual number of unemployed workers with a bachelor’s degree is probably well below 8,000. 

Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist, told PolitiFact West Virginia that a reasonable guess is probably 4,000.

So of the 9,500 West Virginia job openings requiring a bachelor’s degree, qualified workers who are currently unemployed could potentially fill a 4,000 of those. That leaves 4,500 bachelor’s-level jobs unfilled. 

And that’s quite a bit smaller than Gee’s 20,000 figure.

Some caveats

We should emphasize that our estimates involve a lot of moving parts, each with a source of statistical error.

We also focused on bachelor’s-level jobs. If we were to instead define “skilled” positions as requiring at least some college experience, the supply of skilled jobs could go as high as 53%, according to the Georgetown University data. That works out to 21,400 jobs requiring advanced skills, rather than 9,500. Using this broader number could make Gee’s figures closer to accurate.

Finally, we should note that in the Georgetown comparison, West Virginia ranks 51st in the nation — dead last among the 50 states and the District of Columbia — in the percentage of jobs requiring advanced skills. So West Virginia may require advanced skills to fill many of its jobs, but the pressure to fill these advanced-skill jobs is weaker in West Virginia than it is in every other state.

“Gee’s argument could have been better supported by focusing on the deficit of college educated workers in West Virginia compared to the rest of the U.S. — 21% versus 31%,” Sinclair said. “That seems to be a really big problem. That might actually be the driver of West Virginia’s ranking in terms of jobs requiring college degrees: Employers go where the workers are.”

Our ruling

Gee said, “In West Virginia, we have 20,000 jobs in which we don’t have skilled workers.”

Gee has put his finger on what experts say is a genuine concern for West Virginia — the mismatch between educational attainment and skills requirements for job openings — but he’s overestimated the specific figure.

He was unable to back up this figure, and when we tried to come up with an estimate, we found that the number is probably around 4,500.

We rate his statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Does China Burn Seven to Eight Times as Much Coal as the U.S.?

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In this Feb. 26, 2019, file photo, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks at a news conference at a gun control advocacy event in Las Vegas. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice criticized former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s $500 million effort to close the nation’s coal plants at a news conference Monday, June 10, 2019, saying it will destroy the economy of his coal-producing state. Photo: AP Photo/John Locher, File

When former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he would spend $500 million on a Beyond Carbon initiative, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice joined energy industry representatives at a press conference to denounce the effort.

The project Justice criticized aspires to retire all coal use by 2030 while securing an economic future for fossil fuel-producing communities. 

In an op-ed announcing the effort, Bloomberg — who has since entered the Democratic presidential primary race — touted an existing partnership between Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Sierra Club that has “shut down 289 coal-fired power plants since 2011.”

The new initiative would build on this effort and also “work to stop the construction of new gas plants,” Bloomberg wrote. “By the time they are built, they will be out of date because renewable energy will be cheaper.”

Justice, a Republican whose state is a leading producer of coal and other carbon-based energy, said the effort could be “catastrophic” to West Virginia. (Justice himself also inherited a coal mining business and continues to own several mines.)

At one point in the press conference, Justice was asked about the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. He responded by questioning the value of the United States cutting back if China is using carbon-based fuels on full blast.

“How does it make sense that in China, they’re burning seven to eight times the amount of coal that we’re burning in the United States?” Justice asked.

Is his comparison accurate? Justice’s ratio is not far from the reported data, though it’s worth noting that the reason for the discrepancy has a lot to do with the fact that China has a much larger population. (His office did not respond to inquiries for this article.)

A look at the numbers

There’s little doubt that, as a whole, coal consumption by China is several times larger than it is in the United States.

According to the 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, China’s coal consumption was 1.91 billion tons of oil equivalent in 2018. In the same year, the United States consumed 317 million tons. That means China consumed about six times as much coal as the United States did.

Another data source, the Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2019 published by Enerdata, an energy intelligence and consulting firm, found a nearly identical difference — China was about six times larger than the U.S. in consumption of coal and lignite (a low-efficiency type of coal).

Justice didn’t mention it, but another country, India, also consumes more coal than the United States does — 452 million tons of oil equivalent, according to the BP review.

What about population?

We’ll note that the difference in coal consumption between China and the United States is partially explained by the two countries’ differences in population — China has about 4.3 times higher in population than the United States.

However, adjusting for population is less significant in this case than it often is, given Justice’s point. 

Justice is arguing that greenhouse gases do not stay within national borders; they spread everywhere in the atmosphere. So any decreases in carbon emissions made in the United States will be a relatively small factor compared to China in the global context — regardless of which country has a bigger population.

Indeed, according to the BP data, China accounted for just over half of the world’s coal consumption in 2018. In addition, the same data shows that China’s coal consumption increased by 1.8% between 2007 and 2017, whereas U.S. coal consumption declined by 4.9%.

Unlike the United States, which has a lot of economically competitive natural gas under development, China doesn’t, said Anna Mikulska, a nonresident fellow in energy studies at the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“China has to go against the economic calculus to retire at least some of the coal if it wants to lower emission levels,” she said. “This is why we see China still consuming so much.” Mikulska added that the current trade friction with China “does not help, as China turns more to domestic or regional resources due to energy security concerns. One of them is coal.”

That said, the Paris-based International Energy Agency, has projected that China’s coal consumption will indeed decline over the next two decades. “This new direction will have consequences that are no less significant for China and the world than its earlier period of energy-intensive development.”

Our ruling

Justice said that China today is “burning seven to eight times the amount of coal that we’re burning in the United States.”

The actual number is a little bit less than that — China consumes roughly six times the amount of coal as the United States does. But that’s pretty close. We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: How Low is Gov. Jim Justice’s Approval Rating in West Virginia?

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The Greenbrier Resort owner and chairman Jim Justice attends the gala opening of The Greenbrier Casino Club on Friday, July 2, 2010 in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. Photo: AP Photo/Evan Agostini for The Greenbrier Resort

Recent news reports have suggested that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice — who faces both Republican and Democratic challengers in his bid for a second term in 2020 — has one of the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the country.

For instance, WHSV-TV reported, “Gov. Jim Justice’s approval rating 2nd lowest among GOP governors.”

Are Justice’s ratings really that weak? Yes, according to the only 50-state comparison data that’s available. 

The WHSV article references polling by Morning Consult, a company that surveys residents of every state about their governor on a quarterly basis. The most recent Morning Consult survey covers July through September 2019 and was based on responses from 4,521 registered voters in West Virginia. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.

However you slice it, the Morning Consult poll has bad news for Justice.

One method is to see which of the 50 governors has the lowest approval rating, without looking at their disapproval rating. 

By this measurement, Justice has a lower approval rating (42 percent) than any Republican governor other than Matt Bevin of Kentucky (34 percent). Bevin, as it happens, appears to have lost his bid for reelection on Nov. 5.

Justice does match or outpace five Democratic governors in approval — Ned Lamont of Connecticut (35 percent), Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island (36 percent), David Ige of Hawaii (36 percent), Kate Brown of Oregon (38 percent), and Ralph Northam of Virginia (42 percent).

Another method is to look at the governor’s net approval — how far “above water” or “below water” a governor is. A governor is above water if their approval rating exceeds their disapproval rating. If they are underwater, it means that their disapproval rating is higher than their approval rating.

The most recent Morning Consult survey shows that only six governors are currently underwater in approval. Four are Democrats — Ige, Brown, Raimondo and Lamont. Two are Republicans — Bevin at 19 points underwater, and Justice at 5 points underwater.

So Justice fares poorly on that metric as well.

Finally, it’s possible to compare a governor’s approval rating with that of President Donald Trump in their state. It’s possible to make a direct comparison because Morning Consult also surveys Trump’s approval rating in all 50 states.

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics recently made these calculations. They found that only three governors out of 50 trailed Trump in approval in their home state — Raimondo, by a point; Bevin, by 34 points; and Justice, by 25 points.

Morning Consult is the only company that polls gubernatorial approval in the 50 states, so it’s impossible to use an alternative source to compare Justice to the rest of his gubernatorial peers.

However, there’s one other measurement of Justice’s approval rating on its own. 

A survey released Aug. 30 by MetroNews West Virginia found Justice with the same approval rating as Morning Consult — 42 percent. The poll showed that 40 percent saying they disapproved. (The margin of error was 4.4 percentage points, meaning that Justice could have been slightly above water or slightly below water.)

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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