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Are the State’s Political Debates Missing the Issue?

West Virginia gets more of it's total income from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security than any other state. Graph from the West Virginia Center On Budget & Policy.
West Virginia gets more of it's total income from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security than any other state. Graph from the West Virginia Center On Budget & Policy.
November 2, 2012

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Political discussions about the state's economy are missing the point, according to a new analysis by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. It says the state is underestimating the importance of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for our economy as a whole.

Policy analyst Sean O'Leary says the big federal health and insurance programs are many times larger than the state's most politically prominent industries, when measured in terms of what portion they provide to the incomes of West Virginians. This means we should pay more attention to plans that could cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security than other issues, he says.

"The impact of environmental regulations on the coal industry; the impact of a natural gas boom. Those two industries are only about 5.5 percent of our total personal income. These programs are, in aggregate, five times as great."

O'Leary says the coal and natural gas industries make up less than six percent of the state's total personal income. But West Virginia's boom-and-bust economy and older demographics mean a quarter of the state's citizens depend on Social Security, and nearly as many depend on the healthcare programs, he explains.

"We're an older population, and we have a high number of low-income families, low paying jobs. So, the state as a whole relies much more heavily on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security than any other state in the country."

He says a larger portion of West Virginians' total income comes from the programs than in any other state.

"More than a fifth - 20.5 percent of our total. The national average for that figure is 12.8 percent, so we're way above the national average."

Many of this year's political debates have focused on threats to the mining industry, and coal and its allies have attacked what they call a "war on coal."

The analysis can be viewed on the Center's website.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV