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Fact-check: Does West Virginia Rank Sixth in the Nation in At-Risk Youth?

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Williamson, W.Va., has become known as a center for the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers, which has worsened the outlook for many younger West Virginians. Photo: AP Photo/Tyler Evert

Woody Thrasher, a Republican who is challenging West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice in the 2020 GOP primary, took to Twitter to call out the state’s level of at-risk youth on his opponent’s watch.

“‘West Virginia is sixth overall in the average number of at-risk youth.’ Let’s turn this around and grow our workforce by supporting post-secondary training programs. #TimeToGetToWorkWV #wvpol,” Thrasher tweeted.

Here, we won’t address whether or how much post-secondary training programs can help at-risk youth. Instead, we’ll focus on the credibility of his statement that “West Virginia is sixth overall in the average number of at-risk youth.”

There are certainly warning signs about West Virginia’s youth, many of them traceable to the opioid crisis. We have rated as True the statement that West Virginia “has the highest overdose rate per capita of any state in our nation.”

The drug epidemic is “the driving force in (the) child welfare crisis,” the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources said in a statement in February 2018. The department said that the opioid crisis has made it difficult to help get children back on their feet and is making them more prone to mental-health issues. 

But how does West Virginia compare nationally?

In his tweet, Thrasher linked to a July 18 editorial in the Exponent-Telegram newspaper of Clarksburg. The editorial includes the exact sentence Thrasher quoted, and it says the source is the most recent edition of an annual survey by the website WalletHub. Thrasher’s campaign also confirmed to PolitiFact West Virginia that the WalletHub survey was the source.

As Thrasher indicated, the WalletHub report does show West Virginia ranking sixth in at-risk youth, behind Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Nevada. 

The website determined the overall rankings by weighting 15 different metrics. They include the population aged 18 to 24 years who are not attending school, not working and have no degree beyond a high school diploma; the labor force participation rate, the poverty rate, and the homelessness rate for the population aged 16 to 24 years; the rate of teen pregnancy; the percentage of those under age 21 who are detained in residential facilities in the criminal justice system; and the percentage of youth who are overweight, who use drugs, who have alcohol problems, or who have clinical depression.

We reached out to several of the academic advisers to the WalletHub study. The only one to answer us was Rigaud Joseph, an assistant professor of social work at California State University San Bernardino. However, Joseph said that he “did not have any statistical input in the study. WalletHub decided on the criteria for the rankings.”

So we turned to independent experts, who said that WalletHub’s study was credible.

“The WalletHub methodology seems fine and it generates a credible ranking of states,” said Gary Natriello, a professor of educational research, sociology, and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “Other rankings would be possible if different combinations of indicators were used, but West Virginia would likely be among the states with the most at-risk youth, as Thrasher’s statement suggests.”

Our ruling

Thrasher said that “West Virginia is sixth overall in the average number of at-risk youth.”

He is correctly citing a study by the website WalletHub that came up with its ranking by using 15 metrics on youth health, employment, and education. An expert said this is a reasonable way to compare states against each other, though it’s hardly the only way; the use of other data points or weighting of the factors could produce somewhat different rankings.

We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact-check: Is Jim Justice the First West Virginia Governor to Fight For Teacher Pay Raises?

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Teachers celebrate after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Senate Republicans announced they reached a tentative deal to end a statewide teachers' strike by giving them 5 percent raises in Charleston, W.Va., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Photo: Robert Ray/AP
Teachers celebrate after West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Senate Republicans announced they reached a tentative deal to end a statewide teachers' strike by giving them 5 percent raises in Charleston, W.Va., Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Photo: Robert Ray/AP Photo

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, facing a competitive Republican primary in 2020, recently introduced an ad touting his accomplishments in office, including a focus on K-12 education.

The ad, released in a Dec. 4 tweet, features several West Virginians reading off a series of scripted accomplishments from Justice’s tenure. One of the accomplishments, voiced by a teacher, is that “Jim Justice is the first West Virginia governor to fight for pay raises for educators.”

This struck us as odd since governors of all parties regularly tout their support for teachers — a group that’s popular with voters and, in many states, a politically powerful constituency.

Teacher salaries have been an especially sensitive issue in West Virginia. Between 2005 and 2017, West Virginia teacher salaries never rose higher than 44th in the nation. That history set the stage for a 2018 teacher strike in West Virginia, which was the state’s first major K-12 walkout in almost three decades. Justice eventually signed a 5 percent pay bump, which is more than the legislature had offered prior to the strike.

So is Justice really the first West Virginia governor ever to push for teacher pay raises? His office did not respond to inquiries for this article, but we found that each of Justice’s five immediate predecessors either proposed or enacted teacher pay raises.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Democrat, 2011-2017

In his first state of the state address in 2011, Tomblin proposed a one-time, across-the-board $800 increase for teachers. “Frankly, it should be more and we need to strive for a day when our teachers are paid at a rate equivalent to the most important role they play,” he said in the speech, according to the Associated Press.

In 2014, despite offering few increases in his relatively austere budget proposal, Tomblin did include a 2 percent pay raise for teachers. The bill he eventually signed contained a $1,000 raise for teachers for the 2014-2015 school year. 

Gov. Joe Manchin, Democrat, 2005-2010

As governor, Manchin — now a U.S. Senator — periodically sparred with teachers’ unions over the size of his salary increase proposals. But both Manchin’s Senate office and West Virginia teachers’ unions agree that he proposed a teacher salary increase and signed it into law.

During his tenure, Manchin raised teacher salaries by 3.5 percent, according to a joint statement released by the West Virginia Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association when the groups endorsed Manchin’s Senate reelection bid in 2018. Manchin’s Senate office cited the same 3.5 percent increase when we inquired.

The legislation Manchin signed also improved teachers’ annual salary increments and allowed educators to move from a 401(k)-style defined contribution plans to a defined-benefit system.

Gov. Bob Wise, Democrat, 2001-2005

In his 2001 state of the state address, Wise proposed raising teacher salaries by $1,000, plus $2,500 in incentives. “Teachers are the heart of the educational system. We must honor the work of our teachers,” he said.

After leaving the governor’s office, Wise became CEO of the Alliance for Excellent Education, an education advocacy group.

Gov. Cecil Underwood, Republican, 1997-2001

In his 1998 state of the state address, Underwood proposed giving teachers a $750 pay raise. He signed a three-year pay raise into law later that year.

Gov. Gaston Caperton, Democrat, 1989-1997

Caperton was governor during a divisive, 11-day West Virginia teacher strike in 1990, but he ended up presiding over a significant pay increase for the state’s teachers. The strike was settled when all parties agreed on a $5,000 pay increase phased in over three years.

Last year, PolitiFact reported that most significant recent improvement in West Virginia teacher pay compared to other states came between 1990 and 2000, a period during which Caperton and Underwood were in office.

Like Wise, Caperton headed an education group — the College Board — after serving as governor.

Our ruling 

Justice’s ad said he’s “the first West Virginia governor to fight for pay raises for educators.”

That’s far off-base. Seeking pay raises for teachers is practically a rite of passage for governors, and West Virginia is no exception. Not one, not two, but each of Justice’s five most recent predecessors — Tomblin, Manchin, Wise, Underwood and Caperton — either proposed a teacher pay raise, signed one into law or both. We rate the statement Pants on Fire!

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Is Jim Justice Right About Growth in West Virginia Tourism?

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Gov. Jim Justice, R-W.Va., delivers his annual State of the State speech, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Charleston, W.Va. Photo: Tyler Evert/AP Photo
Gov. Jim Justice, R-W.Va., delivers his annual State of the State speech, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Charleston, W.Va. Photo: Tyler Evert/AP Photo

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice took to Facebook in October to tout gains in his state’s tourism industry.

“When I took office, I made tourism a top priority because I knew it had all the potential in the world,” Justice wrote in his post. “Today I am proud to announce that West Virginia’s tourism industry has grown for the second consecutive year, reversing years of decline and outpacing national growth by 58%! Way to go West Virginia Tourism!” 

The post linked to a press release that provided additional detail and cited a study conducted by  Dean Runyan Associates, an economic consulting firm that has examined the state’s tourism industry annually since 2000.

A year ago, we fact-checked how well Justice described the previous year’s statistics and rated it Mostly True, because Justice glossed over some of the report’s negative findings.

How about this year? Let’s take a look, point by point. (Justice’s office did not respond to inquiries for this article.)

“West Virginia’s tourism industry has grown for the second consecutive year… “

This is accurate. 

The report found that overall spending on tourism in West Virginia grew from $4.14 billion in 2016 to $4.28 billion in 2017 to $4.55 billion in 2018. That’s an increase in the most recent year of 6.5 percent, easily exceeding the rate of inflation.

Spending also grew for the second straight year if you set aside gambling revenue. It rose from $3.48 billion in 2016 to to $3.63 billion in 2017 to $3.91 billion in 2018. That’s an increase in the most recent year of 7.5 percent. This also exceeded the rate of inflation.

“… reversing years of decline …”

This is accurate, too. According to the data in the report, the rise over the past two years came after four consecutive annual declines, as this chart shows:

 

 
 

“… outpacing national growth by 58 percent.”

The report also provides data for the national tourism market that’s comparable to the West Virginia numbers.

According to the report, spending was $980 billion in 2018, a 4.1 percent increase over 2017. (These figures are not adjusted for inflation, but neither is the West Virginia figure, so the national and state figures can be compared equitably.)

Justice’s 58 percent figure appears to come from comparing the most recent one-year increase in West Virginia (6.5 percent) with the most recent one-year increase nationally (4.1 percent). The West Virginia percentage increase is 58.5 percent bigger than the national increase.

Our ruling

Justice said, “West Virginia’s tourism industry has grown for the second consecutive year, reversing years of decline and outpacing national growth by 58 percent.” 

These numbers align with the findings of a longstanding annual study of the West Virginia and national tourism economies. We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

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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