Factories, Coal Mines Bring Income Relief to Some States

By: - April 12, 2019 12:00 am

A coal miner in Welch, West Virginia. A spike in coal exports helped West Virginia to the biggest per capita income growth in the nation from 2017 to 2018. David Goldman/The Associated Press

High-paying blue-collar jobs lifted incomes in West Virginia, New York and Illinois last year, even though the states lost residents, while farmers and government workers shared the pain of more stagnant income in Nebraska, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

The new per capita income numbers show how national policies and international markets directly affect state and local pocketbooks. Deregulation in the United States and a heat wave in China boosted coal demand in West Virginia, for example, while overseas mining and farming led to more giant truck manufacturing in Illinois. At the same time, U.S. tariffs hurt Nebraska soybean farmers.

Nationally, per capita income rose 1.4% between 2017 and 2018 after inflation, about the same as the previous year’s 1.6%, according to a Stateline analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data. The most recent peak was 4% growth between 2014 and 2015.

West Virginia had the biggest per capita income growth in the nation, with a 3% increase to about ,600 after inflation.

The boost in the Mountain State stemmed largely from natural gas and coal jobs, said Brian Lego, economic forecaster for the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University.

“Coal and natural gas, and natural gas pipeline construction, all pay high wages, so that helped push up wages,” Lego said. “Health care and business services also helped, but energy and energy-related infrastructure played the largest role.”

West Virginia still ranks next to last for per capita income, ahead of only Mississippi, despite the increase last year.

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Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson

Tim Henderson covers demographics for Stateline. He has been a reporter at the Miami Herald, the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Journal News.