As young people leave West Virginia, officials wonder why and work on solutions | State Journal
All that Del. Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, asks is youngsters give him 12 months. For those who are reluctant to start a career and put down roots in Mountain State, the 25-year-old delegate says to wait a year and see the progress that is made.
“And then in 12 months I’m going to say give me 12 more months,” Higginbotham said. “I would say, look how far we’ve come.”
Higginbotham said West Virginia has become more tolerant in some ways, highlighting its recent decision to call itself gay.
“Today it was perfectly accepted and supported – I had 95% of the government with me, and 10 years ago it wouldn’t have been possible,” Higginbotham said.
Quality of life is one of the main reasons Higginbotham sees people fleeing the state.
“I think people think they can’t make enough money to live well in West Virginia,” Higginbotham said. “I couldn’t tell you how many people I know who just want a good place to work and raise their family – and they don’t necessarily want to do it in a drug infested place where there is crime, where there is crime. There are infrastructure issues, where you can’t get good cell or internet service, and where regulations and taxes stifle that innovation and those opportunities for young people.
Mitch Carmichael is the state’s director of economic development, a position created earlier this year by Governor Jim Justice.
“Over the past few years, we have created a more conducive environment for economic growth in our state,” Carmichael said. “I think there is an incredible interest in companies relocating to West Virginia, or remote workers relocating to West Virginia.”
Jobs versus careers
There is a plethora of jobs in West Virginia for young people. But, there are fewer careers, which could drive people out, according to Natalie Roper, executive director of Generation West Virginia.
“Generation West Virginia is a statewide organization dedicated to attracting, retaining and advancing young people in Highland State,” said Roper. “We are working to truly reverse what has been generations of population decline in the state, ensuring people can live the lives they want and deserve here in West Virginia. And we do this by connecting with the jobs and careers they need to be able to stay, as well as with community connections. “
Roper said they work to help a youngster get a foot in the door of an employer where he can truly advance his career. It turned out to be a challenge at times.
“What we hear a lot from young people is that it feels like you might be able to find your first job here, but to move forward you have to leave the state, or you can’t be. that certain types of things in West Virginia, ”Roper mentioned. “If you want to be an artist, or an architect, or a software developer, you have to leave the state, these are things we hear young people say. “
“Would you like to stay here?” “
Ash Orr is used to it now. As a 30-year-old transgender and non-binary person, Orr can deal with the discrimination she faces.
“There are so many days that I wonder why we haven’t packed our bags and gone, and it breaks my heart,” Orr said, referring to their wife. “West Virginia has so much potential here, but we’re being controlled by officials who are so poorly educated and don’t want to listen to us, and think we’re the problem. “
Orr is the Chairman of the Morgantown Human Rights Commission, as well as the Outreach Coordinator for Morgantown Pride and the LGBTQ + Liaison for Town Hall.
The passing of a state law that prohibits transgender girls and women in the state from participating in sports teams at “any public high school or public higher education institution” was referred to by Orr as the ‘one of the reasons young people may want to leave West Virginia.
“If you are a trans person in sports or have a trans child and have seen this happen, would you like to stay here,” Orr asked.
West Virginia has lost 10,476 residents in the past year, according to the US Census Bureau, and is one of three states to lose population since 2010. Orr sees no reason why many members of the the LGBTQ + community remain.
“The stories that these [LGBTQ+] the children would tell me [about being discriminated against], it’s absolutely horrible, and there is no protection in the state to correct the issues these kids are facing, ”Orr said. “It could absolutely be fixed and resolved, if your elected officials stood up and did the right thing. Instead, they want to cringe and pretend we don’t exist. It is heartbreaking and infuriating. “
Higginbotham was the only Republican in the House of Delegates to vote against legislation on trans athletes. Due to the ongoing dispute over the legality of the law, Higginbotham was unable to comment further, just saying “My vote spoke for itself”.
Several versions of the fairness law, which would ensure that no LGBTQ person is fired, deported or deprived of public services because of their sexual orientation, have died in the state legislature.
Carmichael, in his previous role as Senate Speaker, spoke out against the Fairness Act. But in his last session as a senator, he pleaded for the move.
“As the head of the legislative branch, you have to reflect the will of the members, and I (previously) believed that the members were not willing or able to fully adopt the provisions of the Fairness Act”, Carmichael said.
In October 2020, Carmichael wrote an op-ed that circulated in many state newspapers.
“The West Virginia Fairness Act is good public policy and excellent for human dignity. This is a refreshing bipartisan legislative initiative that will ensure that all people are treated fairly under the law so that they have the freedom to pursue their happiness and live without fear of discrimination. “Carmichael wrote.
Despite his support, as well as that of Governor Jim Justice, the bill never made it out of the legislature.
Carmichael believes the state will one day pass a version of the fairness law.
“It’s going to get there, whether it’s through legal action, legal precedent, or the law,” Carmichael said.
Amplify young voices
Roper said keeping young people in the state isn’t a problem the West Virginia generation – or anyone else – can solve on their own.
“It’s going to force all of us, you know, our leaders, our nonprofits, and our businesses to really work together to solve this problem,” Roper said. “I think the most important thing is to listen to the young people and make sure that there is space, and that the young people have a place at the table to be able to share what we see. “
Ixya Vega turned 23 at the end of May, but she campaigned and was elected to Morgantown City Council as a 22-year-old graduate working for Planned Parenthood. She was sworn in on July 6. Originally from Chicago, Vega came to the area to study at the University of West Virginia and grew to love the Mountain State.
Vega sees young people who want to get involved, but thinks they feel their voice is not being heard.
“I think if we take the time to listen to what young people really want, and if we focus on training young people in the state and keeping them here, we amplify the voices of young people and their issues,” Vega said. . “And not just listen to people who haven’t really had an open mind when making decisions.”
One thing Vega wants to work on as a member of the city council is to try to amplify these young voices. She hopes this can become a statewide trend.
“These young people are trying to really get involved, and I can’t imagine what they can do if they have the backing and backing of the whole city and the state,” Vega said.