By Kathleen Stoll
October 12, 2021
Two wise West Virginians told me the same thing about what matters most to them and a positive future for our state.
The first was a dedicated state worker who helped many families stay together and thrive over the past 20 years. I asked her: What is the key to your successful career as a family counselor? She explained that, in West Virginia, it is all about helping parents find decent jobs.
The other wise West Virginian was former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., whom I had the privilege of working with during his 30 years in the U.S. Senate. I asked him what the key to his successful career was. He told me that, in West Virginia, it’s all about creating jobs.
That was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year and a half, creating decent jobs has become even more important to our state. In the single month from March to April 2020, West Virginia lost nearly 100,000 jobs. Yes, our economy is recovering. Since then, we have gained back 72,000 of the jobs we lost, but we still have 30,000 more to go. We’re not out of the woods yet.
There is no guarantee that our state’s economy will generate, on its own, the growth necessary to create that next 30,000 in jobs. We need robust federal investment. But job creation doesn’t result from giving money to the very rich and big corporations, hoping it will trickle down to the rest of us.
Rather, investments that directly support our working families create jobs. Most West Virginia families don’t hide their hard-earned dollars in offshore tax shelters. When money comes their way, they use it buy groceries, pay rent and purchase other necessities from West Virginia businesses.
If federal legislation cuts the cost of health care, child care, housing and elder care, families put the resulting savings right back into their West Virginia communities. And that money, in turn, generates economic growth and jobs.
We need to keep these principles front and center as Build Back Better legislation moves forward in Congress.
The Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research organization, just released an analysis of Build Back Better’s potential economic impact, finding that the full program will create an estimated 17,290 new jobs in our state.
West Virginia is one of the three states that will gain the most from the act: It will create one additional job for every 46 current West Virginia jobs, a higher proportion than in 47 other states.
During the past 30 years, West Virginia lost 15,000 jobs in the mining and logging industries. The 17,290 jobs we’d get from the passage of the full Build Back Better would more than make up for that job devastation to many of our communities.
Yet, our own Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has demanded that the proposal shrink more than bacon on a hot griddle. He proposes cutting the Build Back Better Act by nearly 60%. According to researchers, that would deprive West Virginians of nearly 10,000 jobs.
To create jobs, Build Back Better invests in our families. It cuts the cost of child care and long-term care; lowers health insurance charges; and protects working parents’ job security when they need a paid day off to care for a sick child. And Build Back Better helps with the cost of child-rearing by giving every working family a tax cut.
I don’t know which of these programs Manchin believes hard-working West Virginia families just don’t need. How many new jobs does he think West Virginia doesn’t want?
Manchin has enormous procedural leverage; he can derail Build Back Better single-handedly. But exercising power requires temperance and wisdom. President Joe Biden, in the spirit of compromise, has offered to meet Manchin halfway.
Now is not the time for drawing hard lines in the sand. Manchin must know jobs and the well-being of hard-working West Virginians are at stake.
West Virginians need Manchin to “bring home the bacon” — we need jobs that let us make ends meet. We need Manchin to cook that up for us.
Kathleen Stoll is the policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (wvahc.org) and operates a policy and economic consulting business, Kat Consulting.