"The infant mortality rate is still up, but child mortality is down," Ellmore said. "Teen pregnancy rates are still the highest in the nation, but the number of homeless children is down."
She stressed the importance of cutting prescription drug abuse, calling the McDowell County town of War "the most prescriptive drug-riddled place in the United States."
* Sam White and Tony Michael, from the Institute for Labor Studies and Research at West Virginia University, spoke about the recent passage of new state right-to-work laws in Indiana and Michigan.
Today, 22 states have right-to-work laws that allow employees at unionized workplaces to avoid paying union dues, even though union leaders negotiate contracts and are required to represent them in any workplace grievances.
Labor unions face hard times. Today, unions represent 11 percent of all workers. During the years between the New Deal and the mid-1970s, union often represented a third or more of the nation's work force, with much higher percentages in industries including coal, steel, auto and chemicals.
State AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue urged people attending Thursday's conference in downtown Charleston to invite Institute for Labor Studies scholars to speak to their members at local union halls and facilities.
* Joe Main, a West Virginia miner who became head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration in 2009, said his agency has improved since then, when "half of our inspectors had less then two years of experience."
Today, MSHA conducts inspections at 14,500 mines, including metal mines and coal mines, as well as sand and gravel operations.
Main said the Upper Big Branch tragedy on April 5, 2010 -- when 29 miners died in an explosion at a Massey Energy mine in Raleigh County -- "should never have happened."
But company officers "put production ahead of safety.... And they hid stuff from the inspectors."
At the time, Main said, it had been "four years since any miner filed a complaint to MSHA from that mine. Intimidation was thick."
Although Main believes things are improving, he said, "In the last month, six miners died, four of them in West Virginia," Main said.
"These accidents were preventable. They should not have happened."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.