In yesterday's column*, “Bringing Them Back to W.Va.”, Wheeling News-Register editor Mike Myer begins by documenting West Virginia’s population decline. Myer then wonders why young people are leaving the state and what the state can do to bring those who have left back to the state. On these latter points, Myer does no research -- choosing to speculate, instead. Finally, he calls on the state’s tourism commissioner to “spearhead a campaign to find out what we need to bring our young people back – and how much of it we can actually accomplish?”
Last year, the Pew Research Center published the results of extensive polling on
The Generation Gap in American Politics
The survey broke the demographics into four groups, millennials, generation X, baby boomers, and the silent generation, and registered their responses on a variety of issues. Here’s the big picture on politics:
While millennials are mostly liberal, West Virginians overwhelmingly voted for Trump and a high percentage continues to support his policies. If West Virginia is not the most conservative state in the nation, we are certainly close. West Virginia is Trump's sanctuary state -- the place where he can safely return to again and again knowing he'll be uncritically accepted by supporters. It's also the state in which the largest newspaper chain is the very conservative Ogden Newspapers and where the default setting on all public TVs is set to Fox News (I think there's a law to that effect). If not for a job, why would a politically-aware millennial choose to move to West Virginia?
Millennials and Ogden newspapers on a couple of obvious issues
Here is what Pew found on immigration:
Contrast that with yesterday’s Wheeling News-Register opinion section which contains the extended thoughts of three pro-wall syndicated columnists:
Belittling Wall’s Backers Not Wise for Democrats
by Betsy McCaughey.
Victims Being Ignored
by Michelle Malkin.
Wall Is Not About Racism
by Star Parker.
There was no balancing opinion, nor has there been any on this subject.
While the local papers may not have quite adopted Trump’s position that climate change is a Chinese plot, they’ve given very little space to the increasing threat that it poses. (See here and here.) Millennials (including those that consider themselves Republicans), more than any other age group, see the danger.
Why would a millennial move back to a state where most elected officials deny and/or put policies in place that increase the effects of climate change?
Spending on education
Marketplace recently asked researcher Cathy Cohen about what the University of Chicago’s GenForward survey of millennials found on education:
Brancaccio: And how would your respondents use the money if there were more money for education?
Cohen: Well they'd do a number of different things, right? They would increase funding for teachers or pay for teachers, they'd invest again in neighborhood schools. There is a clear sense in the findings that young people believe that the most effective way to impact public education is through really those kind of relationships in the classroom. It would be great, I think they would say, if we had more charter schools or we supported vouchers but if given a priority with a limited amount of money, they want to give it to teachers, they want to support teachers, they want to strengthen teachers’ unions. They believe in that kind of intimate relationship between the teacher and the student. That's where in fact we should be making the investment according to millennials.
On the other hand, if you turn to page B3 in the opinion section of yesterday's Wheeling News-Register, you’ll find an op-ed by the state Republican Party chairwoman, Melody Potter, extolling the virtues of Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson), who was recently named to chair the state senate's education committee. As I wrote last month, Rucker is anti-vax and a school voucher supporter, who home-schooled all five of her children. She taught public school for two years in Maryland but left because the state had become socialist. This is the new face of public education for WV's Republican Party, which didn’t “support teachers” last year until they were forced to and for whom “strengthen teachers’ unions” would have been the last priority on their list.
The elephant in the room – good-paying jobs
Obviously, good-paying jobs are the key but apart from medicine and education, the number of jobs that would attract millennials would not appear to be growing in West Virginia. (The state's #1 employer is Walmart.) Remember two years ago when the Republicans quickly enacted right-to-work and prevailing wage laws as their first official acts of the new legislature? Remember how the Republicans, supported by Ogden’s papers, told us how this was going to bring unprecedented job growth. Where are those jobs? The state’s unemployment rate is one-tenth of a percentage point from where it was two years ago (while most of the nation has seen its unemployment rate drop significantly.) And what about the jobs that were affected by the Republican legislation -- are they currently paying less than they did two years ago? Ogden and the Republicans got their wish. And now Mike Myer wants millennials to come back home. For what?
A final note
As a baby-boomer, I've tried not to speak for millennials in this post -- relying instead on various surveys to support my points. I'm also aware that conclusions based upon surveys leads to generalizations that often miss the wide array of differences within a group.
Google Analytics tells me that millennials are my largest readership group. A question for you if you belong to that group: what can West Virginia do to keep you from leaving the state or to encourage you to come back to the state? Drop me a line (I won't use your name) and I'll try to put together another post on this subject.
*Note -- Myer's column is not online.
If you're interested in a less politically-oriented perspective on this subject, see Wallethub's
2018’s Best & Worst States for Millennials
from April of last year in which West Virginia ranked 50th out of 51.