Southwest Virginia Population decline 2010-2018.

Can't Afford the Basics While Working in Southwest Virginia

by Lewis Loflin

Ref. News Center 5 July 25, 2017:

Another not so shocking report confirms what I already know: half the population of Southwest Virginia can't afford even basic expenses even when members of the household work. This is according to the United Way of Bristol, but I have to question it. This confirms my claim of the real poverty rate is 35% to 50% plus.

News Center 5 claims the following rates across the region for the real poverty rate which figures in living costs, etc. I'll assume:

Bristol Virginia 45%
Buchanan County 56%
Dickenson County 50%
Lee County 59%
City of Norton 54%
Russell County 53%
Scott County 45%
Smyth County 44%
Wise County 49%
Washington County 43%

This can't be blamed on the downturn of the coal industry engineered by the Obama EPA because half of the counties have no coal industry. The report went on about the trap so many working poor face: many earn too much for government benefits yet not enough to get ahead and are often one layoff, blown transmission, or doctor bill from the street.

Those on government money simply give up and live on it totally because the minute they even try to get a job government comes crashing down on them. Nearly all the job growth in Bristol has been in retail or call centers averaging about $9 an hour often part time. Yet near the Panicle Retail development that simply emptied the Bristol Virginia Mall has new housing nearby. They claim the rents run $800-$1000 per month plus utilities, which is unaffordable for many.

The report noted the good news is more affordable housing and childcare. Not at $9-$10 an hour. Yet the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Virginia Tobacco Commission, etc. have dumped perhaps a billion dollars into Southwest Virginia alone and this is what we get. Yet nothing ever changes.

Being fairly low income I've come to know how to survive in a mostly rural area with few resources - I'll discuss how to make resources not depend on others for them. With a disabled spouse it's been a struggle to maintain any dignity much rather be largely self-sufficient. We know the good and bad of dealing with Medicaid.

For years I've exposed dysfunctional government and high levels of poverty. Now I'll balance that with positive aspects of a community I've lived in over 30 years. I won't pull any punches or engage in political correctness. The positives:

Low levels of crime despite a drug addiction problem among the lower class. Low cost of living relative to much of Virginia, good infrastructure, good roads, high speed fiber optic.

Mostly good healthcare, but doctor shortages due to high use of Medicaid, Medicare, and uninsured according to health officials I talked to - 75-80% of the population. We have one of the best Veterans Hospitals in the nation in Johnson City.

Low income levels are offset by a high home ownership rates (over 50%) and most other homes not under water. Housing prices are low relative to national averages. On the bad side too much public housing and its crime and social problems concentrated in Bristol Virginia.

For this subject I'll concentrate on Bristol, Virginia, Washington County, Wise County, and Scott County. I grew up in Norton, my wife in Scott County, we live in Washington County 7 miles from Bristol and 2 miles from Scott county. Most of Tri-Cities is south of Bristol, Virginia.

In general "Red" states, and Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee are very "Red", we have a high standard of living for the most even with lower earned income levels. The question is where does that income derive? To quote a study from the King Institute for Regional Economic Studies:

"The most troubling aspect of the Southwest Virginia economy is the decline in earned income in recent years. Real earned income fell 17 percent from 2011 to 2014. This is a direct result of declining production and employment in the coal mining sector. Due to the sharp drop in earned income, residents in Southwest Virginia received 72 cents in government transfer payments for every dollar of earned income in 2014. Comparable values for the Tri­Cities and the U.S. are 49 cents and 27 cents, respectively."

See the full King Institute for Regional Economic Studies Report.

With all of this why did Trump get as much as 75% of the votes in this and other similar regions? See Red States Higher Standard of Living



See Three Decades of Job Losses in Southwest Virginia

Note that minimum wage in 1970 was $1.60 adjusted for inflation is $10.46 in 2018. That is what I call adjusted minimum wage. Assuming one even gets 40 per week that's for 52 weeks that equals $21,756. Per capita income in Bristol Virginia 2018 is $21,589. It is similar to this across the whole region.

Third world? Some have called us the China of America minus jobs.

Just a few of hundreds of plant closings see Smyth County the China of America loses jobs.

Tri-Cities labor market 2007-2016.

Update September 3, 2019. Based on data from Dr. Steb Hipple economist at East Tennessee State University (retired), his data goes to the 3rd. quarter of 2016. The level of job losses is Tri-Cities is staggering, worse than what even I thought.

(The Tri-Cities Consolidated Statistical Area is composed of the Kingsport/Bristol MSA and the Johnson City MSA.).

The Bristol TN-VA, Kingsport, and Johnson City Urbanized Area Labor Market lost thousands of jobs shrinking the labor force that shrank the unemployment rates. The above table shows a decline of labor force by almost 18,000. But it gets worse.

Includes: Johnson City, TN, Carter County, Unicoi County, Washington County.
All workers BLS:
2016 78,140 workers, Median hourly wage $14.47, Annual $40,140
2018 77,020 workers, Median hourly wage $15.38, Annual $42,740
Labor force fell 1120 jobs in 2 years.

Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA MSA includes: Bristol city, VA, Hawkins County, TN, Scott County, VA, Sullivan County, TN, Washington County, VA.

All workers BLS:
2016: 118,470, Median hourly wage $15.27, Annual $41,050
2018: 116,150, Median hourly wage $16.50, Annual $43,480
Labor force fell 2,320 in in 2 years.

That's not the worst of it still. For Tri-Cities the total labor force is 193,170. The labor force shrank by 3,440 jobs in 2 years - during a so-called boom. In 2009 the labor force was 247,965, minus 193,170 equals a staggering loss of 54,795 less people are working in 2019 than in 2009!.

I can't believe this myself. Anyone working here knows it is bad. That could be explained by high poverty and disability rates, and large numbers of retirees leaving the labor force. I don't know because a lot of data is hidden from the public. But makes sense when we look at the national labor force declines.