How Can West Virginia Keep Its Young People Here?


Editor’s Note: We begin a series of stories looking into the issue of how to keep young people in West Virginia. This came about as part of a special digital project undertaken at West Virginia Public Broadcasting over the past few months, WVNextIn6.

We asked you to tell us what’s next for West Virginia in six words or less. Several posts had the theme “Keep our Best and Brightest here.”

According to a recent report from the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research, West Virginia is facing a difficult road ahead in keeping people in the state. The state’s expected to lose about 20 thousand people through the year 2030, and could lose a congressional seat because of it. It all leads to a question West Virginians have been asking for years: How do we keep young people here? We asked our younger listeners on Twitter and Facebook to talk to us about their thoughts.

“I’ve considered moving out of the state, but I’ve stayed close because of my family. My parents are in their 60s, grandparents in the 90s. I wanted to be close to the family in case something happens. It’s finding some kind of way to stay close to your family, but still you have to be able to make a living,” said Heather Sammons, a graduate of West Virginia University.

“You have to be able to find a job, and that’s my big hurdle right now.”

She admits that if she were looking in banking or health care, it might be a different story. But her passions don’t fall into those areas.

“It’s just really hard if you’re doing something where there isn’t this overabundance of work. I would really like to work for nonprofit, but our state, is in such a position that there’s no funding for anything. It’s either stick it out, stick to your guns, and figure out what you could do to survive until you find the job you want to do, or go somewhere else,” Sammons said.

“A lot of is having a really good support system. I came back to Morgantown because my friends are here. It’s easier here than in Huntington, definitely. Reaching out to my family, my sister has been a great help. She will text me and say you deserve great things.”

Johnna Bailey, from Barboursville, also faces similar challenges.

“All of my life has been in West Virginia. I graduated from Marshall last year. I received my degree from Marshall in Anthropology. I am interested in doing research. There’s not entry level work in anthropology around here, although there are some interest in archeological sites,” Bailey said.

“I think that people want to go where the jobs are, and the jobs aren’t here.”

That search for work has caused Bailey to feel a great deal of inner conflict.

“I fantasize about moving to the West Coast, I want that more than anything right now. I fantasize about joining the Peace Corps, and that’s what I am working towards right now, to see the other side of the world,” Bailey said.

“I know that although I want these things, that I love West Virginia so very much. I love the atmosphere, I love the people. I feel very torn because I love my family; I don’t want to abandon my family. They want what’s best for me. I also know I need to do this for myself.”

Bailey says she wants to learn things in her adventures and bring them back to West Virginia, to help the state. But for other people, the job market may be so difficult in West Virginia, they feel they have little choice but to leave, and they may never be able to make it back.

Looking at my own professional career, it’s really hard to say that I will stay, because when you only have four or five universities in the state, it’s hard to get a creative writing job, when I think only two or three of those have creative writing programs. I think that’s sad because I do love the state, I mean I have lived here all my life. I think it’s beautiful; it’s wonderful. At the same time it’s really hard to grow here,” said Ian Williams, a 21-year-old Fairmont State University student.

“If we can establish these kinds of opportunities for the arts to flourish, for young professionals to take root and take claim to the area, I think that would be wonderful. I think that would be a wonderful thing to happen. If we can make the arts an emphasis in schools, and in communities, I think that would go a long way towards keeping people in the state.”

According to the WVU study, the researchers say population decline will start around 2016. And the state will continue to age. This report says by 2030, nearly 1 in 4 West Virginians will be over 65 years old.