Last Word



The Thrasher Group

McKinley Architects & Engineers

September 1, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 21

Last Word

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion. Thomas Jefferson

By Hoppy Kercheval

Well, what do you know?  West Virginia finally leads the nation in something, although it’s a dubious distinction.
We are the most pessimistic state in the nation.

Actually, the Gallup Poll is more specific.  The survey finds that West Virginia is the most negative about the current economic conditions than any other state.  We’re just ahead of Idaho and Wyoming. 

The folks who live in the District of Columbia, Iowa and Minnesota are the most optimistic about the economy. 

At first that seems odd, since West Virginia’s economy is relatively strong compared with other parts of the nation that have been devastated by the downturn. Demand for coal is up and natural gas drilling is taking off.

The state is paying its bills and even setting aside some money for a rainy day. No state employees or school teachers have been let go. 
But still we are the gloomiest of all about the economy.   Here are the possible reasons:

  • President Obama’s policies:  Most West Virginians did not vote for Barack Obama and his EPA crackdown on coal mining has made him even less popular.  Some of us evidently believe that the economy is going to get worse as long as he is President.
  • Limited economic opportunities:  Coal and natural gas may be doing well, but our economy is not diversified, limiting options for jobs.
  • Youth dearth: Our young people leave, making West Virginia one of the oldest states in the nation, with a median age of 41.  Young people tend to be more optimistic. They think they’re going to live forever and make a fortune.  When we get older, reality settles in.  Life may be good, but it can wear you down.
  • The reward beyond: West Virginia is deeply religious and suffering often goes hand-in-hand with the fundamentalist view.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of doubt, disappointment and pain. Faith says the reward will be great, but earthly suffering is part of the deal  
  • Coal’s legacy:  Coal’s bad old days left a deep scar on the Mountain State, creating a sense of foreboding in some.  The struggles remain alive through literature and songs from artists like Elaine Purkey and the late Hazel Dickens. 
  • Government dependency:  A USA Today analysis earlier this year found West Virginia had a higher percentage of its population getting some sort of government assistance than all other states except New York.  I suspect it’s hard to be optimistic about your economic future when you are relying on Social Security, Medicare, food stamps or unemployment.
  • Our inferiority complex: Sometimes West Virginia is its own worst enemy.  We love our state, but are cursed with a gnawing sense that we’re not quite good enough.  That’s why we smolder when we are the butt of jokes.  Pessimism festers under this thin-skin because we know future slights are inevitable.

Perhaps you have your own theories, or disagree that we are really that negative.  I encourage you to post your comments


– Used by permission of Hoppy Kercheval - MetroNews.  This Commentary was published August 31, 2011.