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“Young and Underpaid” – Typical West Virginia Story

November 17. 2008

Charleston, WV – They're young and they're underpaid. A new analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that West Virginia employees in their twenties are making about 10 percent less today than their counterparts earned 30 years ago, after adjusting for inflation. Researchers also were surprised to discover that income erosion has taken place despite the fact that education levels are higher today.

Report author John Schmitt says he found that, generally, the only younger workers seeing better paychecks are those who belong to unions. Unionized West Virginians in their twenties make about $1.75 more per hour than non-unionized workers, and they're more likely to have health coverage. He says the downside is that most young employees don't have access to a union.

"By U.S. labor law, it's very difficult to organize a union. Unless we get some changes in that law, I think these trends are likely to continue."

In 2009, Congress is expected to take up the "Employee Free Choice Act," which would make it easier for employees to form unions. Opponents of the proposal say it will hurt businesses' bottom lines, which would result in fewer jobs.

Schmitt also found a pervasive belief that it's acceptable to pay young people less, no matter their education or experience. This attitude is unacceptable, he says, because it hurts families.

"We're really talking about babies being born into the world to parents who are young. Those folks need economic resources, they need better wages, they need health insurance."

The full report is at

Deborah Smith/Deb Courson, Public News Service - WV