Editorials, Opinion

Results are in: W.Va. among worst states for women

As we like to say in West Virginia, thank goodness for Mississippi (and Alabama). Otherwise, the Mountain State would be dead last in everything.

As it stands, several recent rankings put West Virginia consistently in the worst five to 10 states for women’s physical and financial well-being. The exact order of states shifted a little from list to list, but at least we were (usually) above Mississippi and Alabama.

WalletHub’s “Best and Worst States for Women,” released Feb. 26, ranks West Virginia 45th out of 51 (50 states plus D.C.); and the “Best and Worst States for Working Moms,” released May 2023, ranks us 47th (but dead last specifically in professional opportunities). A list from the National Organization for Women, released November 2023, ranked West Virginia as the 10th worst state for women to live in (Alabama and Mississippi tied for absolute worst).

Each list uses different factors that are weighted differently (some things have a greater impact than others). But they all look at factors such as wages (and/or the gender wage gap), employment, poverty, access to health care and access to reproductive health care. And in all these categories, West Virginia fails to measure up to the majority of states.

For example, women in the Mountain State don’t have the lowest median wage, but the gender wage gap (the difference between what men and women make, often for the same work) is one of the highest in the nation. According to the National Women’s Law Center, on average, a woman in West Virginia working full-time, year-round will make $500,000 less over a 40-year career than a man in West Virginia. That’s part of why WalletHub ranked West Virginia last for opportunities for working moms (though we come in middle-of-the-pack for work-life balance), but that ranking was also impacted by family poverty rate, access to/affordability of child care and representation in a variety of economic sectors.

West Virginia also ranked 50th in the “Women’s Health Care and Safety” subcategory of the “Best and Worst States for Women” list. Lack of access to health care in general, and lack of access to affordable health care in particular, dragged West Virginia way down. The state’s limits on abortion also hurt the state’s score — not because WalletHub is filled with a bunch of woke liberals, but because reproductive health care has a ripple effect on women’s general well-being (pregnancy, and its loss, are extremely hard on the body) as well as their economic opportunities (pregnancy, birth and childrearing all impact when/how a woman can work).

Our Legislature could have tackled any one of these issues, but it chose not to. Lawmakers let die a bill that would have authorized a state child or child care tax credit. We know that the national child tax credit helped lift millions of children out of poverty and that when federal subsidies for child care lapsed, many daycares had to reduce staff or close their doors. There were also bills introduced to increase child support, but those all died. Legislators could have also enshrined women’s equality — such as equal pay — but its so-called “Women’s Bill of Rights” had nothing to do with women’s rights and everything to do with anti-LGBTQ+ culture wars. They even tried to remove what little protections for abortion care remain.

It’s no wonder, then, that West Virginia ranks as one of the worst states for women. Alabama and Mississippi have kept us from being rock bottom. But our laws and lawmakers have kept us from rising to the top. If we want things to change, we need to make a change in our government.