Two days ago, President Donald Trump tweeted the following:
“The Great State of West Virginia is producing record setting numbers and doing really well. When I became President, it was practically shut down and closed for business. Not anymore!”
The tweet is ambiguous at best, with no attempt to explain what ‘numbers’ the president is referring to, but we thought it would be worthwhile to explore what he might have meant.
First and foremost, we suspected the president may be referring to the coal industry. He is, after all, a supposed champion of the industry, lifting environmental regulations to put miners back to work.
Those numbers, however, paint a less encouraging story than the president’s tweet may imply.
“We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal and we’re putting our coal miners back to work,” Trump said at a rally in Huntington. “That you know better than anybody.”
According to data from the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration, preliminary figures show 80,778 people were employed by mine operators and contractors. This number is, actually, ‘record setting’ — it’s a record low, about a thousand fewer than were employed in the last year of the Obama administration.
Nationwide, coal plant retirements neared a record high, and overall coal production dropped to the lowest level in nearly 40 years, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Another notable number Trump may have been referring to is personal income growth. West Virginia currently leads the nation in personal income growth at 5.6%, a full 2.2% higher than the national average. The Bureau of Economic Analysis attributes this growth primarily to construction.
This sort of growth is certainly nothing to frown at, but in terms of real dollars, West Virginia still lags behind. Our state saw around $75.8 billion in personal income, which is significantly lower than our surrounding states, with the closest being Kentucky at $190.7 billion.
Some of our other ‘record setting’ numbers include the adult obesity rate, in which we lead the nation with a 38.1%.
We also have the highest overdose death rate per capita in the nation at 57.8 deaths per 100,000 residents. West Virginia has many problems throughout the state, none of which can be fixed in two years, no matter who the president is. The narrative the Trump administration and Gov. Justice would have us believe is that somehow under the Trump presidency, we have gone from a hopeless wasteland to a flourishing utopian paradise.
The truth is less exciting: not much has changed. We still face the opioid epidemic, a struggling economy, the decline in the coal industry, a dwindling population, a bloated adult obesity rate, the second-lowest life expectancy in the nation and many other issues, most of which have changed very little between the Obama administration and the current administration.
We aren’t sure what numbers Trump was referring to, or what he wants to take credit for, but we do know our problems have not been solved — they’ve hardly changed at all.