Numbers and statistics can be tricky things. They provide important information and insight into a problem or opportunity. They can help you compare your position to others. In the right hands, they can help you assess a situation accurately. In the wrong hands, numbers and statistics can be twisted and manipulated beyond recognition in order to advance one position over another. Critical data that conflicts with that position can be left out, leaving a distorted and inaccurate analysis.
Such is the case with the current West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse claim that more than half of West Virginians are without jobs. The basis for it is a Marketplace.com article which states that only 49.8 percent of West Virginia residents are in the workforce—which means 50.2 percent aren’t. CALA is trumpeting the figure in its advertising campaign attacking our state’s legal and economic climate.
As with most of CALA’s so-called “statistics,” there are some real problems.
The first is that CALA provides no context for the number. Is it high or low? What’s the norm? Standing by itself, the number looks enormous. But what about the other states? The actual average for workforce participation in all 50 states and Washington D. C. is 60.14 percent. That’s just 10.34 percent higher.
CALA also doesn’t bother to mention the fact that the figure is based not on the state’s working age population, but on the state’s entire adult population. West Virginia’s population is the fourth oldest in the country—and, while the Marketplace.com article cites that fact, CALA doesn’t bother to mention it. According to the 2010 census, 16 percent of our state residents are senior citizens. Only Florida has a higher percentage of seniors than we do. Most of these seniors are retired and no longer part of our workforce. If 16 percent of your adult population is retired, you’re going to have a lower percentage of people working.
CALA doesn’t even bother to mention that in that same article, West Virginia’s unemployment rate is listed as just 6.3 percent. While that is higher than the national average of 5.2 percent, there’s a BIG difference between an unemployment rate of 6.3 percent compared to the 50.2 percent jobless rate CALA claims we have—a difference of nearly 800 percent.
Of course this isn’t the first time that CALA has tried to use distorted jobs data and big numbers to scare West Virginians into giving up their rights. Last July, the front group trumpeted that West Virginia was in crisis because we had lost 7,000 jobs in 2013. What CALA didn’t bother to disclose was that the 7,017 jobs were less than one percent of our job market. CALA also failed to cite the fact that 4,258 of those jobs — more than 60 percent of them — were government jobs. Although it is unclear what percentage of those government jobs were federal jobs, the number of federal workers has declined to its lowest level in nearly 50 years. Those declines, particularly for the postal service, are affecting every single state in the country — not just West Virginia.
The truth is CALA doesn’t care about West Virginia’s economy and job market. It’s only goal is to increase the profits for the out-of-state, billion-dollar corporate special interests that fund the group and its cohorts.
West Virginia IS on the right track to bring new businesses to our state and grow our economy. The National Federation of Independent Businesses identified concerns such as taxes, government regulation and quality of labor. West Virginia has lowered business taxes by nearly $500 million in just six years. The cost of doing business in our state is 14 percent below the national average. When you look at the CNBC ‘Best States for Business’ report, it shows that West Virginia needs to improve our infrastructure, have more skilled workers available and have an educated workforce for high-technology, 21st century jobs.
The Legislature should focus on ways to continue to build on the more than $20 billion in new investments made in this state in the last decade.
Those are REAL numbers.