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Report: WV Income Growth 13% Since '79, But Unequal


Friday, February 21, 2014   

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A new report on income growth shows West Virginians have seen theirs expand by 13 percent since 1979, but more than half of it went to the very wealthiest.

The report by the Economic Policy Institute found that when the statistics are examined by income level, the top 1 percent took more than 50 percent of the increase.

Mark Price, the report’s co-author, points to a stagnant minimum wage as one reason workers haven't shared in the prosperity, even though more money than ever is being made and worker productivity is at its highest levels.

"The bottom line is that if they're not taking it home in their paychecks, a lot of it's flowing up to the very highest-income folks," he says.

West Virginia lawmakers appear likely to raise the state minimum wage to $8.75 an hour. There is a national movement to raise it to $10.10.

According to Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, the inequality here has been part of a national pattern.

"In the past 30-odd years, every state has seen their richest citizens take a larger share of the total state income,” he says. “And that's true in West Virginia, and that's true in all states across the country. "

O'Leary points out the same things have contributed to income inequality in West Virginia as have helped cause it across the country – a stalled the minimum wage and weak unions.

"We haven't raised our minimum wage above the federal minimum,” he says. “We've seen a steep decline in unionization.

“We have the lowest number of workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement in the past 40, 50 years."

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