America’s Poorest and Richest States Are Next-Door Neighbors
The northeastern corner of the poorest state in America borders, and is partially surrounded by, the northwestern corner of the richest state. (The boundary between the two was a matter of dispute until a U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1910 fixed the line.)
The wealth accrues to Maryland, due in part to its proximity to Washington D.C. and its concentration of high-earning institutions. A 24/7 Wall St. study of the nation’s richest and poorest states, however, identifies its opposite number, America’s poorest state, as its next-door neighbor, West Virginia.
West Virginia’s median household income for 2017 was $43,648 — just over half of Maryland’s $80,776. In comparison, the equivalent figure for the country as a whole was $61.372. Five of the nation’s 31 poorest metropolitan areas are wholly or partially in West Virginia.
What keeps the Mountain State in poverty?
The coal mining industry’s decline is a major cause. While there has been an uptick in production since 2016, a study by West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research predicts that production will soon level off, and drop precipitously over the next two decades.
Other factors: The state’s workers are the least educated in the nation, with not quite 12% of residents over 25 holding a bachelor’s degree. In addition, many eligible workers don’t join the workforce, at least partially because they have health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s study of adult obesity rates, West Virginia’s is the highest in the country at 37.7%. And drug use is rampant. The National Institute on Drug Abuse identifies the state as having the highest incidence of opioid-related overdose deaths in the country.
It isn’t surprising that a 2017 report by CNBC identified West Virginia as “America’s worst state for business,” and “in an economic death spiral.”